Content Warning: mentions of sexual harassment
Ise Mariya is a voice almost certainly familiar to anyone who’s watched anime in the last twenty years. Her lengthy resume includes shounen hits (The Promised Neverland and Chainsaw Man), beloved children’s series (Yes! Precure 5 and Pokémon XY), and experimental darlings (Land of the Lustrous and Flowers of Evil).
We sat down with Ise at Otakon 2022 for a wide-ranging conversation. In the process, she touched on the increased pressure for voice actresses to be idols—an issue that also affects women in other public-facing professions—and how the slow change post-#MeToo (as well as #KuToo, a Japan-specific movement) has given more people space to come forward with their stories. In the past several years, prominent actresses Konishi Hiroko and Hirano Aya have both made public statements about facing harassment as part of their work. Other actresses have come forward under pseudonyms.
The following transcript has been edited for clarity. Thank you to Chiaki for doing a translation of the recorded transcript in addition to Otakon’s provided translator.
Which of your roles did you find most challenging or rewarding?
Ise Mariya: 難しいですね、どの作品も凄く思い入れもあるし、遣り甲斐があるんですけど、やっぱその中でも「ハンターハンター」のキルアっていうキャラクターとー うーん、そうだなあ、プリキュア？プリキュアのキュアレモネード。あと「約束のネバーランド」のレイとあと「ジョジョ」、FFは凄く遣り甲斐がありましたね
Chiaki translation: That’s a hard question. I do cherish each role I get and they’re all good roles, but Killua from “Hunter x Hunter” comes to mind and- Hmm, thinking about it: Pretty Cure. Cure Lemonade from Pretty Cure, Ray from “The Promised Neverland” and FF from “JoJo.” Those were memorable roles for me.
Translator: That’s a really hard question. I mean, each role that I play there’s something special about it but if I had to pick some, it would be Killua from Hunter x Hunter, Cure Lemonade from PreCure, and then Ray from [The] Promised Neverland, and FF (Foo Fighter) from Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.
You’ve dubbed several American movies for Japanese audiences. How does the experience differ from recording lines for anime?
Chiaki translation (Nuanced differences here): So when dubbing a live action American film, we’re watching real people acting on the screen. So we record the dub as we listen to the original English audio through headphones. So, we have to match up our acting with the American actors, actresses talking on screen, and that, honestly, isn’t something easy.
Another difference is that we use a different voice when recording for live action dubs compared to anime voices.
Translator: That’s a really good question. So as you know, in American movies when you’re dubbing them, you’re dubbing real raw humans who are acting on screen. And when we’re in the studio, I’m listening on headphones to the voices of the American performers in English and trying to match the movement of their lips with my acting; so that’s very very very challenging, and it requires a certain different use of my voice than I use for anime productions.
You’ve played several beloved characters in children’s anime, like Cure Lemonade and Eureka (Bonnie in the US release of Pokémon). Do you ever hear from female fans who’ve grown up loving your work?
Chiaki translation: I have recently started hearing that from folks.
It’s been 15 years since I did Cure Lemonade on Pretty Cure and It’s been eight years? Nine years since I did Eureka. So people who were watching those shows have set out and become voice actors themselves, and they’ll say things like “I grew up watching Pretty Cure,” “I love your work from back then,” “I wanted to become a voice actor because of it,” before we get into recording.
Translator: That actually has been happening way more recently as the fans of those shows have matured. So like, Cure Lemonade, I did that role 15 years ago, and for Eureka that was eight to nine years ago, and it happens actually quite often where other voice actresses come up to me and say “oh, I decided to go into this career path because I saw your work on these two series and I grew up watching you. So definitely that’s been happening more and more frequent[ly] recently.
AF: Is it alright if I ask which voice actors have told you that?
Translator: ちょっと言えない (laugh)
Chiaki translation: It’s not Pretty Cure, but there’s quite a few people who’ve told me they loved my work as Killua on “Hunter x Hunter,” but I don’t know if I can name-
Translator: You can’t name them, haha.
Chiaki translation: There’s so many.
Translator: Well if I had to say actually how many voice actors or actresses come up to me and say that this role that I did inspired them to follow this career path, it would probably be less of my work on Cure Lemonade but more Hunter x Hunter. But speaking of one specific person? It kinda happens so frequently that not one [particular] person comes to mind.
AF: Of course.
In your experience, how have things changed for women in voice acting since you started in the 2000s?
Chiaki translation: I wonder, one thing might be that there are a lot more idol voice actors now. A lot of the new girls are getting asked to work like idols: sing and dance, as well as work as voice actors. I was the exact opposite. I told my manager I didn’t want to work like an idol since I was in my teens. The reason why was that I didn’t become a voice actress because I wanted to be an idol, and I didn’t want to be seen as an idol voice actress. So I wanted to be judged by my own merits and didn’t want to step off that path. I wanted to be seen as a voice actress in my own right since my teens, so I consciously didn’t take roles that would require me to sing and dance like an idol. Newcomers are now working while doing that.
Translator: And if your talent agency asks you to do something like that–
Chiaki translation: If they ask, I say no.
Translator: If I had to speak to one change in the industry that I’ve noticed during my time in it, it’s that there’s been this huge wave of idol voice actresses—so this expectation that in addition to voice acting you’ll also sing, dance, and do all of this sort of pop idol stuff as well on the side. And when she was sort of discussing it with her talent agency in her teens, she told them flat out, “I do not want to do any of that.” Not really try to learn to sing and dance on top of everything but really just to be judged and viewed by the work that I actually can do. As opposed to becoming an idol.
AF: Purely as an actor.
Chiaki translation: Yeah!
Translator: Yes, to be viewed as an actress.
Translator: Is it okay if we combine questions five and six? [Editor’s Note: the questions for this interview were provided to the interviewer beforehand]
AF: Mm, mmhmm [nodding].
Were any productions you worked on affected by the shutdowns in 2020? Since COVID, have there been any changes in how voice actors are given the option to record their lines?
Translator: So when you’re talking about is there any influence on the work she may have done during the isolation 2020, is that in regards to the way it was recorded, or more about the subject matter?
AF: I was thinking about safety and production details or, y’know, American actors had that discussion about home studios.
Chiaki Translation: In the Japanese voice acting industry, up until the pandemic, we all got together in the studio — sometimes with as many as 10 people at a time — to record. With COVID, we’re keeping it to three people, at most four people. We also split into groups, so we have like Group 1, Group 2, Group 3, Group 4, Group 5 to separately record different combinations of people conversing in a scene. We’re recording in separate little groups.
Translator: Before COVID, generally you would have like ten people in the studio working in one space all together, but after COVID what they did was cut that down to three to four people max, and then really broke up on the schedule into smaller groups, mostly based on scenes that they have where they’re speaking to those characters one on one to try to sort of limit the spread.
Chiaki Translation: If that’s the case, does that mean you spend less time recording now?
Chiaki Translation: Yeah, actually. We’re only recording my scenes, so I spend less time in the studio. But you record shows by acting out and playing off other people, so I do feel pretty lonely not having that interaction.
Translator: One of the sort of interesting things was there was almost less time in the studio because it was more of an efficient process, where we were just having the actors that needed to be there to be there, as opposed to when you have ten people, not everyone who’s sitting around has a scene. But one of the things is you do kind of lose that sense of creating the piece together as a cast or an ensemble, so it did have that kind of lonely side to it as well.
We got through these really fast, did you have any other questions?
AF: If there were any female voice actors that you admired, or that inspired you to become a voice actor?
Chiaki Translation: If I had to say, Mitsuhashi Kanako, who played Killua in the musical as well as the original adaptation of the anime. I really looked up to her.
Translator: If I had to say one person, was the first version of Hunter x Hunter and the actress who played the part of Killua, Mituhashi Kanako, definitely was someone that I looked up to.
Do you have any questions about – I’m just asking because you’re Anime Feminist, but, about the #MeToo movement in that industry? And I’ll ask her if this is okay, cause I know it’s a very sensitive subject.
AF: Absolutely. I would actually love to know what the conversation about #KuToo is in the voice acting industry.
Chiaki translation: Hmm, there’s a lot that happens, but I don’t think anyone can say it out in the open. And even if someone says it anonymously, without using their real names, it’s not like the person who said it will benefit from this in any way. So everyone doesn’t really put it out there in the open.
And the industry, we’re not like the entertainment industry—okay the voice acting industry is somewhat similar—but I think everyone has experienced an episode where they felt uncomfortable or thought something was sexual harassment, but I don’t think people in the Japanese voice acting industry have not really spoken up about it in the past nor present.
Translator: Is that something I can translate?
Ise: [By all means.]
Translator: Yeah, so there’s a lot that people really feel like they can’t say out in the open, because when they think about it – ‘okay, coming forward, is that really going to bring any benefit to me?’ And at the moment, it doesn’t feel that way. So when people think, y’know, ‘this is kind of an unpleasant experience or borderline sexual harassment,’ it’s still not an open enough environment where people feel like they have any benefit to coming forward. The voice acting industry is very different, I would say, than the entertainment industry in that sense. As in in the entertainment industry more people are coming forward, and there’s kind of more seriousness to the allegations, but it still doesn’t feel as if it’s a comfortable environment where people can speak up.
AF: Do you have hope that could change, or that there’s something you’d like to see fans or journalists do to help change that?
Chiaki translation: You remember how Hollywood actresses started the #MeToo movement? That influenced Japan as well and the Japanese entertainment industry also started their own #MeToo movement. So while the voice acting industry did not have it’s own #MeToo movement in Japan, it served as a sort of deterrence. It’s got people to change with the times and realize what is and isn’t appropriate, so I think things have become better than ever for folks.
And for me, I haven’t had a lot of bad experiences, so I don’t harbor any issues. However, if I had to say, I’d like for the younger generation of talent to not have to go through any bad experiences. I think we really owe Americans for starting this.
Translator: Hollywood actresses, their MeToo movement really influenced the Japanese entertainment industry, and then as sort of a domino effect, it really influenced a bit the voice actor community as well. In the sense that compared to before, it’s become a little bit easier to come forward. But personally, she hasn’t had much experience of workplace harassment or sexual harassment, so it’s hard for her to speak about how it might change her experience personally. But she does think that it’s a wonderful thing for younger generation of voice actresses, where they feel that they can come forward.