Monday, February 19, 2007

Hirano Aya in Korea

This past weekend, during a spate of blog posts from Seoul, Hirano Aya's website seems to have become the most popular seiyuu website in Japan. She was in Korea with Kudou Haruka and others from Death Note to do location shooting for feature material, as well as a magazine feature. (click photos to enlarge)

Aya in Death Note staff jacket, complete with number

According to traffic estimates made using and posted on 2channel, Aya's and Mizuki Nana's websites are the most popular among a group of top idol-seiyuu sites. Both have been zooming up since the beginning of the year, and Aya's shot above Nana's on the weekend, during the Korea trip.

On Monday, Aya's site was, according to figures, about the 20,000th most popular site on the Web, with Nana's about the 60,000th, despite her recent release of a new CD. Hardly YouTube, but a big jump above other seiyuu, with popular TV personality Nogawa Sakura out of sight below 100,000th.

For the past few months, Aya's site has been tracking Nana's. On the weekend, Aya's site jumped ahead, and the Sunday figure of about 37 users per million internet users for Aya's site compared with only 22 for Nana's site; Tamura Yukari's was around 12, a six-month high for her; and Nogawa Sakura and Shintani Ryouko around 2. Figures for Horie Yui's site were not available for technical reasons. By Monday, Aya's site had entered the stratosphere, reaching over 60 users per million.

The trip to Seoul had a bad beginning. Aya forgot her passport and was late arriving for takeoff. It must have been a charter or a private plane, since they were apparently able to hold it for her. In Seoul, Aaya and Kudou Haruka (whom Aaya described as moe) posed in Korean traditional dress.

She went to have a massage -- for the first time, she said -- where they told her she had problems in a lot of areas: tonsils, chest, ears, sacral nerves, intestines, knees. About "chest," she commented: "!? Must mean heart and lungs." On 2channel, there are frequent comments about her small bust. Sunday night, in her room, she took a picture of her feet, and her manager took a picture of her posing on her bed as Superman. The photos are getting fairly intimate. Welcome to the global village, where where we see more details of celebrities' lives than of our friends' lives.

She was fascinated by the spicy food, which she says she can't take. She was also fascinated by a plate of live squid, still moving. And loved her Monday breakfast of abalone rice porridge.

She will appear in a Japanese TV interview in traditional Korean dress. With the more traditional hairstyle, her usually-covered high forehead is revealed. She says her pose in the left-hand photo is meant to be proud and seductive, like someone saying: "No-one is as pretty as me. Come hither." "No way, for me," she said disingenuously. Everything was held in by pins, as shown in the right-hand photo. "They hurt!"

And she made a point of posing with a producer of Death Note (below, left), with the director of the Death Note and NANA special features, and with an editor for Korean NewType, thanking them all for their support. These are some of the people she depends on for employment and publicity. She's very careful to give such people their due. Maybe it's my imagination, but the smile in the shot with the producer seems a bit forced, lol

At one point she joked that she liked Korea so much she might move there. Her last meal in Seoul was in a Western restaurant with an English menu, and she was impressed by how well the Koreans around her knew English. (This has become a topic for some soul-searching on the Japanese fan-board 2channel.) The visit to Korea demonstrates the growing importance of that market, and also Korea's changing image in Japan.

The whole trip was tiring. Her shoes gave her blisters, and she ended up going to the airport in hotel slippers. But it might have been worth it for photos like the classic, old-fashioned shot poorly reproduced below right. As Aya said: "Who's that?"

Except for her tiredness, there is no real hint of the problems that set her back late last year. She has made few public appearances, however, and her blog gives no indication she is actually going to college this term. The weeks seem full of recording and photo-shoots. She was in a Galaxy Angelune concert earlier this month, and will be in the big Suzumiya Haruhi event in March.

But it is a bit eerie to watch a video that has appeared on YouTube of a New Year's message from the cast of Manabi Straight. Aya says her new year's resolution is to go more slowly, at her own pace, and to look after her health.

A further indication of her popularity is the fact that she had the top two seiyuu recordings last year -- Hare Hare Yukai, and Boken Desho Desho. Hare Hare Yukai, at almost 95,000 units, sold more than twice as many units as any other seiyuu's recording (#3 was Horie Yui's Hikari, at 45,000). But both of her hits were from Suzumiya Haruhi, and her own September recording -- Ashita no Prism -- only got as high as (a fairly respectable) 16th, at 15,000 units sold.

It's interesting that all this fuss is over an artist who has really had only one starring role in an anime, and then with number two billing, after Sugita Tomokazu. She has turned in more great performances since then -- Leila in NANA and Mei in Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight are terrific, in my opinion -- but they are supporting roles. We'll see where she goes from here. She stars in the new Kyoto Animation slice-of-life comedy Lucky Star, which will begin airing in April.

On TV, she is an engaging personality, a combination of kawaii burikko, proud professional, and informally chatty gal-pal. Her interview schtick is to suddenly change her voice to assume a voice character. On Nakagawa Shouko's show last fall, she did Lumiere, Haruhi...and Pikachu.

Sometimes the things she says in her blog and on radio shows are not what you would imagine her management wanting to hear. The days blogging her struggles to make chocolates for Valentine's Day were painful. And it was surprising to see that she had said on Sumomo Radio she had long decided not to marry, that it imposed too many restrictions, and that if it came to that she would just live with someone.