Layla in NANA was Hirano Aya's best performance so far. She broke my heart almost every time she spoke.
Layla is a strange, sad creature. The beautiful lead singer of the fabulously popular band Trapnest, but deeply lonely and insecure. We first meet her when she has called in a young male prostitute to her hotel room. As the series progresses, she and he become true lovers, as opposed to client and provider. But dark clouds hang over their relationship: first that she has long been in love with someone else. Second that he is in a band that has a complex rivalry with hers. (click photos to enlarge)
In an early interview, Aya read some of Layla's lines from the manga, to show how she was going to approach the role. She had said elsewhere that she had trouble figuring it out so had decided to just do it straight. But her version of "straight" was a haunting breathy delicacy that goes straight to the heart. And it shocks the interviewers by being so different from her own speaking voice. In the rest of the clip, they talk about how the 18-year-old won the role over 500 others, and show the throat spray, nasal spray and throat lozenges she has in her bag. And Aya says that one of the hardest parts of voice-acting is when you're hungry and your stomach rumbles, but you just have to bear it and grab some snacks. There's a brief bit of Layla speaking in the show, in this clip.
I won't claim Aya's is the most naturalistic acting, but it has the power to generate exactly the right emotions for the part.
The cast and staff of NANA had their wrap-up party recently, and Aya had photos from it on her blog. First, here's a photo of some members of the cast: (l-r) Naoki (Katsu Anri), Ren (Kiuchi Hidenobu), Nana O. (Paku Romi), Layla (Hirano Aya), Misato (Kanai Mika). Photo by Yasu (Kawahara Yoshihisa). Has someone spilled red wine on Ren's shirt?
And here are (l-r) Paku Romi and Aya, and the wrap-up party cake. The Japanese on the cake says "NTV," the network that broadcast the show.
In Aya's caption to the photo of her with Paku Romi, she says: "I love Paku-san! I want her to be my big sister! I want her to be my boyfriend!" Even I am not gullible enough to believe there is anything in this except a great liking for the cool, strong, kind, and talented Romi. Kugimiya Rie once said that she loved going over to her "big sister" Romi's place to be fed her home cooking, have a bath, and sleep over.
In her caption to the cake photo, Aya says that no-one could believe it was over. They were together for a whole year. Even though she only joined the cast partway through, they made her feel like one of them, a real character in the show, and it was a lot of fun. Aya is the youngest main seiyuu in the largely quite experienced cast.
Aya said she hoped there would be a second season, so I guess she has inside information that it is being considered. And why wouldn't it be, considering the great popularity of the franchise and the fabulous ratings the show got over the year.