Kazusa Aranami is a voice actress who has appeared in many popular anime, and she is also the owner of the talent agency and audio production company BloomZ. MANGA.TOKYO invited her to an interview to ask about her work and what is like to be the female president of a company at such a young age.
Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Kazusa Aranami and I am a voice actress. I am also the president of BloomZ, which is an audio production company and talent agency for voice actors.
When voice actors introduce ourselves at the recording studio, we usually just say aloud our full name and the agency to which we belong. It’s quite different to the exchanging of business cards done in other lines of work.
You must be very busy working as a voice actor and company president at the same time.
It was really tough when the company was still in its early stages. For the first year, I was doing voice acting whilst also constantly consulting with many people on various matters. Fortunately, our business has stabilized since then.
I think I just had good luck. I was even told that I would get lucky by a fortune-teller. But then again, I tend to only take into account the good fortunes and ignore the bad ones.
What inspired you to become a voice actor?
My childhood dream was actually to become a manga artist. However, I gradually realized that drawing and storytelling weren’t easy things to do. I don’t think I ever really had the talent for it. However, I still wanted to work in the manga or anime industry and thought about what other options I had. This is when I learned about voice acting. I started learning theater and performance, and I went on to enroll at a training agency for voice acting. I was quite fortunate to get a voice acting job shortly after entering the training agency.
I did various jobs to make ends meet, such as working in a restaurant and a call center, but none of them lasted long. I think it’s because I wanted to work for what I love. Maybe I just got easily bored of doing those jobs.
How did you get into setting up your own company?
I was thinking about leaving the agency I was with at the time. I also wanted to do other things, like sound mixing and operating an agency, so we thought ‘why not set up our own company?’. I say ‘we’ because there were other people around me who thought the same way. However, when our plan started to come to fruition, no one wanted to take on the role of president as they knew how stressful it would be. I felt cornered and took on the role. To be honest, I didn’t intend to be president at all, I just wanted to be one of the employees.
What reactions did you get at first after taking on the role?
Everyone seemed taken aback. I sometimes accompany our voice actors to the studio when they record their first episode of an anime. When I hand over my business card with ‘president’ written on it, they look at me as if to say, ‘you’re kidding me!’
There are some cases where famous voice actors set up their own company as their own private agency. I’m not one of those, so I was prepared to receive the cold shoulder or to be told I was getting too big for my boots. It’s also expected in the voice acting industry that you should do nothing but act if you’re a voice actor.
However, I wasn’t treated as coldly as I expected. I think if we keep trying our hardest, we’ll earn trust eventually in any industry. If there are still people who discriminate against me because I’m young and female, I’ll just ignore them.
Do you still face many hurdles when running your company?
I’m still as busy as before. I try to be careful about how to communicate with people. As an audio production company and talent agency, our main job is to communicate with and handle people. It’s difficult sometimes. For instance, I might say something with the intention of helping someone, but the person might take it the wrong way. Finance-related work is also really stressful. However, I believe we shouldn’t be overly-afraid of our lack of business knowledge. I think we must believe in ourselves and keep trying when the time is right.
Now, I’d like to ask you about the voice acting job itself. What does it take to be a voice actor and how does one become one?
I think there are two types of people who aspire to be a voice actor. First, there are the people who purely love anime and manga. The rest are people who enjoy attention. I don’t think the latter is wrong because the desire to be the center of attention can motivate them to polish their acting skills. It goes without saying though that a love of manga and anime provides motivation for continuously making the effort. It doesn’t matter at the end of the day what inspired them to become a voice actor. People who try hard to polish their skills diligently and relentlessly will become a good voice actor.
Voice actors record their voices while standing in front of a microphone, meaning we need different skills to TV or theater actors. When I watch the finished work, I sometimes realize that my voice doesn’t blend in even if I thought I did a good job at the recording studio. To prevent this from happening, I use my nasal cavities to resonate my voice instead of using diaphragmatic breathing. Digital recording makes voices sound compressed, so I must adjust my voice accordingly. These techniques and skills are meticulous and subtle. Vocational schools and training schools for voice actors won’t teach you these methods, so we need to learn them in the studio by trial and error. I think perseverance and instinct are essential to becoming a voice actor.
What aspect of being a voice actor most appeals to you?
First, you can get more attention than usual jobs. I feel like as though I’m merging into an anime or manga character. In that way, more people know of my existence. It’s an unforgettable experience. Second, a voice actor’s job can be described as a craftsman of voices, so we can pursue skills and techniques. Even an unknown voice actor can make a character memorable. I think that’s the greatest joy of being a voice actor. Singing a character song while pretending to be the character is a good occasion to show our skills.
It’s equally important not to become lazy in developing skills and to not become full of ourselves when we attract a bit of attention. I’m going to strictly discipline myself not to become like that.
Do you have inquiries from aspiring voice actors abroad?
We have received inquiries from Europe, the US, and especially from China. China has a strong content industry base and not only provides funding for Japanese anime, but is also enthusiastically developing its own IP businesses. I think the need for voice actors who are native Chinese speakers will increase from now on.
I feel that fewer people overseas are as successful in voice acting compared to Japan. I think that’s because the culture of voice acting and voice acting as a profession haven’t yet developed enough. I’ve heard that in China, it’s very rare to have a recording session with multiple cast members at the same time. I believe they may develop further and even overtake Japan in the future. However, if someone is aspiring to be a voice actor in Japan, it might be quicker to fulfill their dream by visiting Japan and learning Japanese first. The need for voice actors who can speak non-Japanese languages is increasing here in Japan, so opportunities are here to grab with both hands.
The next question is about your audio production company. What kind of business is it in the first place?
We coordinate the schedules of our voice actors individually. We also print and distribute scripts, reserve recording studios, and so on. It’s a job to single-handedly handle various jobs related to recording.
Do you receive orders from overseas?
We do. Such orders include the localization of a foreign IP production into Japanese. We assign Japanese voice actors to the recording. If we can be of any help, please feel free to contact us via the official BloomZ website!
What do you want to do most as president right now? Could you share your goal and dream with us?
My goal is to create a TV anime work from scratch by establishing a production committee of our own. As I said earlier, my childhood dream was to become a manga artist. My passion towards creating stories and watching them hasn’t changed a bit. My dream will almost come true when we create anime from the ground up. I’ll be extremely happy then. Obviously, I can’t be just dreaming and must be realistic and serious about money matters. I’m not like the late Steve Jobs, who was able to attract money and admiration just by talking about his dream.
Could you answer some questions from our readers? What do you think is the most important aspect of portraying characters?
I make every effort to express what makes the character unique. When I was a child, I wasn’t aware of the existence of voice actors and believed that characters in anime were speaking by themselves. I felt so because their voices and rendering sounded so perfectly real to me at the time.
Who do you admire as a voice actor and what works inspire you?
I admire Yoshiko Sakakibara. I was blown away by her acting in a drama CD for the Tales series. As for inspirational works for me, I was deeply influenced by the TV drama series Journey Under the Midnight Sun, which is based on a Keigo Higashino novel. I also like the manga series Rurouni Kenshin and Hunter x Hunter. I love loads of anime works including Sailor Moon and Higurashi: When They Cry. However, when I fail to get a role in my favorite anime at auditions, I become too upset to watch anime for a while.
It must be hard to balance your work as a voice actor and company president.
It took a while for me to get used to the president’s job, including attending business meetings and doing desk work, because I hadn’t had these experiences before. It was hard work until I became familiar with them. It was difficult to change my mindset, and I started off quite confused. I did audio production work for more than 100 characters in two weeks while I was also working as a voice actor. I also managed to attend business meetings as president at the same time. It was a hellish time then, but now I’ve become good at multitasking and can even have time off in peace. I have fun with my friends sometimes just like other young women. I played Super Smash Bros with Mariko Honda late at night a few days ago. Having said that, it’s impossible to have time off without the support of others. According to the staff at BloomZ, I’m as determined as ever and pushing forward without hesitation, and my staff members are following me while tidying up the mess I make.
The anime industry in Japan is still male-dominated, save for a few female stars and creators. I suppose you must have struggled a lot as a woman when you dived into the industry.
Fortunately, I had a strong network of people at the time. Among the people who gathered around me to set up BloomZ, several people had already established themselves outside of the anime industry. For them, the anime and voice acting industry was a new business frontier. They didn’t have old-fashioned, prejudiced ways of thinking when it came to women working on their own. They weren’t like, ‘you’re a young lady after all’ or ‘because you’re a voice actress’. Instead, they’ve been of great support to me. Some of them are gentlemen almost 20 years my senior. Regardless of gender and age, I believe that building trust in a not one-sided but mutually beneficial relationship will give me the strength to overcome any challenges.
Could you give a message to women in every corner of the world who are working or aspiring to work to achieve their goal, regardless of industry?
I believe your value is unrelated to your gender or age. Women in the anime industry in Japan are still in a vulnerable position. I also know there are many issues affecting women around the world. Having said that, I don’t want to hide behind women’s vulnerability and hate men just because they’re men. Instead, I want to establish a human-to-human relationship with both genders. While doing what we must do, we try to understand each other human beings earnestly and openly. I think we can gain allies this way.
That’s great. Thank you very much!
(Report/Composition Yohei Kashii)
More interviews with voice actors:
Otaku Talks With Voice Actors! Vol. 1: Sarara Yashima
Otaku Talks With Voice Actors! Vol. 2: Mariko Honda
Otaku Talks with Voice Actors! Vol. 3 Nozomi Nishida