Haruhi English Voice Actors Interview, Anime North 2007

Toronto, Ontario, Canada. May 25-27, 2007.
Reporter(s): Blitzwing01, Leviathean

Canadian Haruhiists rejoice! Anime North 2007 was the setting for the official Canadian premiere of the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and it was a good kick off for a highly anticipated R1 DVD. The various festivities included an early release of the Volume 1 boxset in the Dealer’s Room (3 days before the street date), and a screening. The highlight of the Haruhi events was the Hare Hare Yukai dance competition, where several teams of fans competed for audience approval and the chance to win themed prizes. This culminated in a group dance on stage with all the groups, plus the English voice cast! Here’s a video clip of the epic performance: 

Episodes 1-2 were shown following the competition, and we got our first taste of the English dub. Personally I tend to prefer my anime in Japanese with English subtitles, and so I’m pleased to report that, as far as anime dubs go, it was pretty solid. Haruhi, Mikuru and Yuki were done very well, carrying roughly the same impact across the cultural divide. Kyon and Itsuki were adequately performed, but Kyon’s voice, Crispin Freeman, lacks the same sarcastic edge that Tomokazu Sugita provides in the original. Minor characters ranged from a decent Ryoko to a rather uncomfortable Tsuruya.

We were able to catch up with Johnny Yong Bosch (Itsuki), Wendee Lee (Haruhi), Michelle Ruff(Yuki) and Stephanie Sheh (Mikuru) the next day for a roundtable discussion, and gleaned some interesting insight into the English side of the production process:

Fans have very high expectations for the quality of the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya dub, so I was wondering if you could talk a bit about your character and what sort of background work was done in order to capture the nuances of the character you portrayed.

Johnny: Well, I spent a year studying the Japanese one. [laughs] No, you know, when I auditioned for the part, it was just an audition like for anything else, and I didn’t even know they were having the fans casting it. When I went in, there were auditions for two roles, Kyon and for Itsuki. And I guess they were somewhat in my range. I didn’t really think much of it, I just kinda did my thing, and I guess the fans were happy enough, to choose me for one of them.

But early on for the first volume, all the producers were there [for the recording], and they had a certain way they wanted the character to be done, and I was actually really confused. It was like they were trying to be specific but vague at the same time with how I was supposed to play it. They kept saying that [Itsuki’s] supposed to be “very happy”, and I’m like “Happy, well what does that mean,” you know? It can mean so many things! Happy… gay? It could be that. I actually read somewhere online that people thought he was gay, and I thought that I didn’t want to play him that way, because he doesn’t seem that way. And they’re like, “No no no not gay, just happy,” and so… [laughs] Well, how the hell do you play “happy”? I mean, do you want to hear him all the time like “[high-pitched] Heh hi hi hi” and they’re, “not like that, just kinda, you know, happy.” That was my direction most of the time, “be happy”, or “smile more”.

I want a character that has depth, so I can’t always be smiling, otherwise that’s just really boring. He’d be just like one tone. But I think there’s something in there, I don’t know, I’m still just confused. And then after the first volume, we had someone else directing it. The first volume was like, 20 million network executives or producers, and then after that, not much.

Stephanie: Not for me. I’ve had Eric (The ADR Director for Haruhi) every single session, and I don’t remember if I had any Japanese producers.

Johnny: Well they were there for mine. They were definitely there for mine, and they were like “more happy, more happy”. You know, the episode that they showed yesterday, with all the… “bad” acting? You guys were reading it really flat and that made it harder for me, because I had to be bad in a different way. But how else could you be bad? I could stress the wrong words, but then people might just think that I’m just a bad actor in real life. [laughs]

Stephanie: It was tricky for me too since everyone was going “da daa da daa da” and—

Michelle: That’s what my character sounds like all the time anyway. I had to be bad, but monotone…

Johnny: You see, it was tough. I’d like to say, after that first volume, when my character actually starts coming in, there are a couple episodes where he’s just freaking talking the whole time and he doesn’t stop, paragraph after paragraph, and there’s so much and it’s so wordy, and it was all the same thing, “make it happy”, and I was like, “I don’t understand happy!” I got frustrated at some point and told them, “I really don’t understand what you’re telling me, is there another word, or can you tell me a person, political or something who’s like this guy and they couldn’t give me anything. So I said “please send me the script, and I’ll come up with different ways to do it. And they didn’t send me the script. [laugh] Well, maybe that’s what they wanted.

Stephanie: What they wanted was frustration.

All: [laugh]

Stephanie: Maybe they were more cunning than you thought.

Stephanie: For me with Haruhi, Eric knows that I’m somewhat of a fangirl. I used to be much much better at doing research, but I didn’t always have the time. Also if you’re researching you need to have your suppliers give you materials and it’s not always possible. So for this show, I felt ill-prepared, because I didn’t really do that much research. And [Eric] literally expected that I would know everything. It’s a convoluted story, it doesn’t unfold in a chronological way. And he totally expected I knew this and that, saying “You know, right? Because you’ve watched it all already,” and I was like, “Um, no… I didn’t watch it all…” I felt a little bit bad because he expected it.

Obviously the first volume was like a little bit more challenging, but it wasn’t too crazy or anything that frustrating. I didn’t get [told] “happy” a lot, but a lot more “timid”. I’m timid by nature, a lot of things scare me, so I just went with that.

Michelle: For me, as far as the show goes, same as these guys I went in and I auditioned for the characters… I don’t know about you guys, but they were being so hush-hush about everything? Like, I didn’t even know which character I was playing! At first I thought I was playing the character that [Stephanie’s] playing, and then I thought I was playing another character? It ended up that we did these interviews online for the ASOS Brigade thing, and I finally figured out which character that I was! I was like, “Ohhh!”

Wendee: Really, there’s not a lot of preparation. Basically, we kinda arrive as a clean slate, and it seems to work better for the purposes of creating your performance for the studio. When you prepare a role for theatre or an on-camera character, you can do research. You can take some time to develop it and invent a lot of your backstory and what your character’s about. But for the purposes of matching a performance that’s already complete–we’re just reinventing it for a new language–it’s far better not to have a script memorized, or to really have too much of a notion of what you want to bring to the character in the beginning. That way you can really trust the producers and the director to give you the backstory and information you need to bring it to life.

So they just gave you the script to read off of for the audition?

Michelle: Yeah, they gave us the script to read off of, and then they just said, “We’d like you to match the voice” and that kind of thing. The girls, we had 7 characters to audition, so I couldn’t place in my head which character it was. It was that day, that interview day, that I finally realized who I was, and then it was like, “Okay, it’s not such a big secret anymore.”

Johnny: I do remember too, when I went in for the audition, I still felt like it was very vague, like I didn’t know exactly the emotions or levels of who I was supposed to be playing. And then when I found out later, after I had done the auditions, all of a sudden I’m getting these e-mails, from fans who were like, “Oh, so I hope you get the part for Haruhi”. I was like “What?!”

Stephanie: Basically, on the ASOS Brigade website, they posted clips labeled 1-2-3-4, of each character–they didn’t put any names, right–and then you voted. But not everybody who won got casted in that role. So I think they just wanted to generate buzz, and they also wanted to know what the fans were thinking.

Johnny: But! I do remember ’cause I had somebody send me the link, I think it’s down now, but I went in and checked…

Stephanie: Voting for yourself?

Johnny: [laughs] No, it was after they had already voted, otherwise I would have played both parts. I went and checked it out, and everybody knew who we were though.

Michelle: So they knew before I did!

Johnny: They recognized our voices, yeah.

Stephanie: They were going, “I think Number 1’s this person, I think Number 2’s this person, I think Number 3’s this person”.

Johnny: And it was all over the internet.

Michelle: You mean from our auditions?

Stephanie: Yeah, even though they were numbered…

Johnny: Yeah, it didn’t have our names, but they figured it out who we were. Man, it really sounds like we were unprepared for this, but it’s not going to be bad! I guarantee you that.

Stephanie: Yeah, it’s just that the show was such a big deal, and there was so much buzz around it, it was being treated carefully. They wouldn’t even let me read ahead in the volumes! You see, there are about 3 or 4 scripts per volume? And I would ask Eric, “Well what’s going to happen in the next episode?”, and he’d go, “Put that script down! Don’t look! Don’t look!” Eric’s really particular about keeping it fresh and figuring things out as it happens to your character.

For episode 00, there’s been a lot of debate about it. Some people seem to love it, and other people seem to hate it. Where do you guys lie on that divide?

Michelle: Which one was that one again?

Stephanie: The homemade movie one.

Michelle: Oh I thought that was hilarious. ‘Cause we don’t get to do that, ever, you know? We got to see it yesterday on the screen, and I thought it was really, really great. It was funny, but I like the campy thing. I understand that from a fan’s standpoint, it doesn’t really set in with the norm, but think outside the box, you know? It doesn’t have to always be set to a certain standard. Just let it go, and relax, and think outside the box, and just enjoy it. If you don’t like it then don’t watch it. [laughs]

Wendee: Well, I think it kind of gives away some of the storyline upfront. Haruhi’s not in it very much since she’s behind the camera, so I didn’t get to see a whole lot of that episode in-studio.

Stephanie: I think that series is funnier than I expected, especially after we got to hear some of the audience’s responses.

All in all, the event was a positive kickoff to a successful launch of a highly anticipated and demanded R1 DVD set. The enthusiastic response of fans and the dedication demonstrated by the English cast suggest that perhaps this dub will live up to the exceptionally high standards of the Haruhiists after all. And for the purists, there’s always the Japanese language track.