Jujutsu Kaisen star Anne Yatco on the fight for casting equity and what shounen can learn from Nobara

By: Vrai Kaiser August 27, 20210 Comments
an eerie Nobara holding a cursed nail

While something of a newcomer to the world of anime dubs, Anne Yatco is a longtime actor with a varied and fascinating career. She entered the world of acting after spending four years as a full-time forensic scientist, worked with the all-WOC sketch group BAE*GENCY, and co-starred on the Grey’s Anatomy spinoff Station 19. She’s recently pivoted primarily to working in voiceover, where she’s best known for playing Nobara in the English Jujutsu Kaisen dub.

Vrai sat down with her at Otakon 2021 to talk about the fight for inclusivity in casting and what makes Nobara such a breath of fresh air in shounen.

VRAI KAISER: I wondered if I could start by asking you to tell me a little bit about your work with BAE*GENCY and Royale.

ANNE YATCO: I started doing improv and sketch around the 2015, ‘cause I figured I needed to add more tools to my  skill set, right. And I really fell in love with it, and I had so much fun. Getting to do sketch with other people of color is… it’s a lot the same, but it’s also a very different experience from doing sketch with white people, if that makes any sense. And sketch is still fairly dominated by white people, that’s fine, I understand… [gung-ho] We’re changing the landscape. And it was lovely to be part of these two groups that wanted to focus on comedy that spoke to our communities; and honestly, for me as a writer, I felt more liberated to write things that made me laugh on both those sketches than, oddly enough, my other sketch teams that I was on with less diverse [people].

VK: Are you still able to perform with them, or has voice acting work been keeping you…

AY: It’s been keeping me really busy. I mean, we’re still friends and we still talk and hang out every once in a while, but with the pandemic, that’s definitely interrupted a lot of people’s ability to do sketch comedy in the same way. There are teams and groups who are who have found ways to work around it in the pandemic, and good for them—it’s amazing to see their content ’cause they’re so good; but for me personally, I kind of saw that as a time for me to reset. and that was also the time when my voice over career really started moving; so I also took that as, “okay, well, I’m just gonna keep flowing with this!” Sketch comedy will always be there for me and my teams will always be there for me. If I have time to do stuff with them.

Nobara and Yuji posing triumphantly in fancy clothing, imagining sushi and steak

VK: I’m sure there fans of your work in anime would love to see [it] if you ever had that chance.

AY: Well, I just started a TikTok account, so I’m gonna hopefully come up with some stupid bits. [laughing] Y’know, when I have time.  

VK: Have you been able to find or create that kind of space with other women of color in the anime voiceover world, or is that something you would like to do is?

AY: It’s something I would really like to do. Frankly, I haven’t had the opportunity to meet as many of my colleagues as I would have liked; especially because like I said, I’ve had a lot of movement in my career recently when it has been very difficult to meet many of my peers.

VK: So, it’s a lot of recording from home right now.

a woman dramatically and angrily flinging doors open while a man looks at her blankly

AY: The majority, still, recording from home. Some studios have been opening up with very strict protocol, so I’ve been able to go in once or twice. But I also know that everyone’s kind of walking on eggshells, watching the numbers, making sure that we’re being as safe as we can. So who knows how long that will stay, depending on the delta variant and further variants.

VK: There’s been a lot of talk recently about casting pools in anime dubbing opening up in terms of diversity and thoughtful inclusion. Have you had, I guess, [either] positive or negative experiences with gatekeeping as you’ve moved into voice work?

AY: Hmm, how do I approach that. It’s interesting, I feel like…. So, we had a panel about Asian-American representation on Friday afternoon with me and Kaiji [Tang] and Aleks [Le] and Ricco [Fajardo], and the five of us kinda talked about how we as Asian-Americans—people of Asian descent—have kind of moved through the industry or seen ourselves reflected or not reflected in the industry, both in terms of on-camera stuff and in voiceover. And there’s kind of two sides of us where, yes, we want to be included and we want to be in those casting pools; and I think there have been great strides, both from the studios and casting and also from actors taking their own agency and saying, “this is what we want” to try to make that happen. And I think that is important and it is good.

I think we’re still a long way from true equity. And part of that true equity involves what roles Asian-Americans, or people of Asian descent, can actually go out for. If that makes sense. When I get my castings, I see a lot of castings where they’re like, “we only want people of Asian descent for this role.” And that’s cool and great, but sometimes I wonder, were you…how do I say this… Are you just ticking off a box to make sure you have an Asian character in your cast, y’know?

I think that’s part of the process of moving toward the true equity that we’re looking for, so I know this is kind of like the growing pains in the industry. That’s where we are right now. I wanna see us move to a place where people of color are being considered for all the roles, regardless of what they’re looking like. That’s when we have true equity. And that’s not to say it doesn’t happen. That does happen. But I think when more of us are given the same opportunity that’ll be great.

Nobara posing in triumph as Yuji cuddles a big fluffy dog

VK: Absolutely everyone I’ve talked to has just loved your work as Nobara. You’ve talked a lot with other interviewers about what you really like about her, her role, and her layers as a character. Are there things about Nobara that you would want other shounen and action-type anime to carry forward when they’re writing female characters in future shows?

AY: One of the first things that struck me about Nobara is when she walks in, there’s nothing about her as far as [being] a romantic option. I’ve been reading through the manga and even still—I guess, if that’s a spoiler or not. And that’s just part of how Akutami writes, romance isn’t really on his agenda. A lot of times when you have a female high-profile role in a shounen anime or manga, inevitably romance becomes a part of it. And I think it’s refreshing that it’s not the focus, because then it becomes more about, “what are the other things she’s interested in? What are the other things she cares about?” And it’s not to say none of these teenagers wouldn’t be interested in one another romantically, maybe, whatever—but that’s not what we’re talking about. That’s not the story we’re telling.

VK: Right, she has more going on with her.

AY: Exactly.

The following portion of the interview contains broad/vague Nobara-related spoilers through manga volume 15

Nobara and Panda looking at the camera, smug and mocking

VK: I know a lot of people were really big on Nobara’s fight with Momo. Is there a moment as a viewer or as a performer that has really stuck with you about the role?

AY: Let’s say besides [the fight], ’cause that’s the answer. [laughs], Let’s see. My most common answers are that moment with Momo and the moment in episode 24, after the big fight with Eso and Kechizu, when she and Yuji kind of talk about processing this terrible thing that they’ve done. And she talks about how she doesn’t have time to waste on people who don’t already have a seat at her table. It cuts to the quick, but that’s how she has to deal with life. It’s how she has to do with all these things that she’s dealing with. She’s going to protect the people that are closest to her, and she’s gonna protect them fiercely and with everything she’s got. And I think that’s rad.

VK: You mentioned you’ve been reading the manga, I’ll put a spoiler on this interview or we can cut it if you don’t want, but she hasn’t… She’s been missing, shall we say, for a while. Do you have, I guess, hopes or fears or, as somebody who plays her…

AY: [joking] I have a vested interest, I’m biased. But here’s the deal: if nothing’s been said one way or the other, I wanna believe we’re gonna see her. Fingers crossed.

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