Thursday, July 12, 2007

Here Comes Yahagi Sayuri

Quietly, quietly, the talents of 20-year-old voice actress Yahagi Sayuri 矢作紗友里 are being recognized. Not by 2channel, the Japanese otaku forum, where she is still on only her second thread. But directors are giving her constant work.

Karin Gretel

After her debut as Karin in Karin in the fall of 2005, she had eight roles in seven shows in 2006, including Otogijushi Akazukin (Gretel and Kewpie), School Rumble 2 (Tennouji Mio), Tokimeki Memorial (Yuka), and Busou Renkin (Hanaka). In 2007, she has already had eleven roles in just over half a year, including the starring role of Kuu in Kyoushirou to Towa no Sora, as well as kiddy tech genius Amano in Gigantic Formula. She is Izumi in Hayate, Mana's classmate Chisato in sola, Kaho in Over Drive, and has made guest appearances in Venus Versus Virus and Gurren-Lagann. She has also had a role in recent episodes of the long-running Kirarin Revolution, as Myuu-tan, and has a minor role in the new show Potemayo.


Below is a series of photos of Yahagi Sayuri over the past couple of years. As I have said before, no-one will ever mistake her for an idol. She is a lovely, plain girl with a great voice. Like Kawasumi Ayako, she will have to make her way on talent and personality -- of which she fortunately has lots -- rather than glamorous looks.

She and male seiyuu Fujita Yoshinori (Masumi in Nodame Cantabile) are the 19th generation of hosts of the web radio show Voice Crew, a job given to top young seiyuu from the I"m Entertainment/Arts Vision stable. Previous hosts include Horie Yui, Saitou Chiwa (whose voice Sayuri's most resembles), Morikawa Toshiyuki, Kuwatani Natsuko, Yamamoto Maria, Nakahara Mai, Ueda Kana, Kugimiya Rie, Hoshi Souichirou, Morinaga Rika, Asakawa Yuu, Takahashi Mikako, etc., etc.

Here is an audio sample of her work on the radio show. For a video sample, click here, or click the screencap below to view it on YouTube:

She has even acquired a nickname. She apparently once told Inokuchi Yuka, her sister Anju in Karin, that she wished she had one, and Yuka, Nabatame Hitomi and Shitaya Noriko came up with "oHagi" (ぉはぎ), which she is now known as on radio and on 2channel. It's a nice nickname, and has puns in it that might refer to her being small, to a sweet rice-ball, and to a bush of long poetic significance in Japan that bears discreet purple flowers through the summer.

Two things make oHagi great. First, she has a strong, mobile, liquid voice. Second, she seems to have an intense professionalism that allows her to pick up tone and technique like a sponge. In Karin and Kyoushirou she shows what a unique and identifiable voice she has, but at first in Otogijushi, I didn't recognize her at all. She was clearly able to give the sound director exactly what he wanted, irrespective of her own natural timbre. Playing alongside Tamura Yukari, Kugimiya Rie, and Sawashiro Miyuki, among other top pros, that show was like her post-graduate training. She may still be a voice rather than a real actress, but she's getting there. Her mad weeping scene in Kyoushirou was a triumph.

She seems to be a comparatively unassuming and conservative person, but friendly and popular with her fellow seiyuus. Her co-host on the Gigantic Formula radio show, Satou Rina, kept calling her an "old-man little-girl" (オヤジ小学生).

When Karin came out, I translated an interview with her in which she explained how she came to be a seiyuu. Her classmates made fun of her high, little-girl voice and one day, watching anime, she realized that she could possibly turn that voice into her greatest asset. And she has.

More leading roles are to come, but oHagi has become one of the more active young seiyuus, building a career in voice-acting. She works with the I"m Enterprise agency, which was the agency involved in the recent scandal over sexual harassment of a young seiyuu by its boss. We'll have to see if she stays with them. It's a big agency that can give its performers a lot of help, but the scandal has recently lost it and its sister agency Arts Vision some of its seiyuu -- including Morinaga Rika and (now it can be confirmed) Horie Yui.

Here are links to more info about oHagi:
Hashihime Seiyuu Gallery
Anime News Network
Wikipedia Japan

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Lucky Star ED Collection Debuts at #4

Here we go again. Cash registers are ringing all over Akihabara as the Lucky Star らき☆すた karaoke box ED collection album went on sale Tuesday and has debuted in the daily Oricon album charts at #4, second-highest of this week's new album releases, after Arashi's new CD. First, the OP becomes the fastest-selling anime song of all time, now this. Will the madness never end?

Here is the Oricon chart. And here is a piece in Akiba Blog showing Konata's face plastered over everything, and great stacks of the CD ready for sale.

The magazines are getting the idea, too, with features on Hirano Aya and/or the entire Lucky Star main cast popping up in all the seiyuu magazines. The idea? That Hirano Aya = big sales. I swear I had no thought that this was going to happen when I started to take an interest in her and her work around nine months ago.

The ED album has the shortened TV versions and longer full versions of all the EDs, which are old anime songs sung by the cast of Lucky Star as if their characters are together for an afternoon in a karaoke box. There are some straight versions, but most of the songs are played for laughs -- and there are a lot of laughs, particularly from the totally over-the-top interpretations of Hirano Aya, in character as Konata, mumbling and shouting her way through several songs. You can check out some of the songs on YouTube. Cha-la Head Cha-la, Monkey Magic, Sore ga Ai Deshou, Valentine Kiss, Chijou no Hoshi, and Sailor Fuku to Kikanjuu are some of the biggest hits. Here is a link to for US pre-order. Here is a link to for full details.

And here are the seiyuus who have wreaked this havoc: (l-r) Fukuhara Kaori (Tsukasa), Hirano Aya (Konata), Katou Emiri (Kagami), and Endou Aya (Miyuki).

Aaya announced recently that her next single will be coming out in October. She has not had a real hit single of her own, as distinct from an anime tie-in, so this will be a pivotal release in her singing career.

UPDATE: On its second day out, the CD is at #10, so perhaps the first day was just a blip of otaku pre-orders.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Hirano Aya and Chihara Minori at Animelo

Chihara Minori 茅原実里 and Hirano Aya 平野綾 performed last weekend in the big Animelo Summer Live Generation A show at the Budokan in Tokyo. They were not the show's headliners. Those would have been bigger singing stars such as Okui Masami, Mizuki Nana, Ali Project, Momoi Halko, Suara, and Jam Project.

Backstage. front (l-r): Suara, Hirano Aya, Mizuki Nana. back: Kuribayashi Minami, Chihara Minori, Ohmi Tomoe, Manami from the group Jyukai.

Aya sang only one song -- a rocked-up version of Hare Hare Yukai -- but Minorin sang two, her new single Kimi ga Kureta Ano Hi and the theme from the new Kiddy Grade pilot. Minorin was one of the early invitees to the big show, but Aya was a last-minute addition as a "guest."

In her caption to the group picture, Aya wrote in her blog what an honor it was to be there with such stars, and said she knew she had a lot to work on, but would do her best to be included in the group next year. She also wrote that her guitar connection went dead just before she went on, and said the moments while technicians scrambled to fix it seemed so long. She apologized profusely for the delay.

Aya's outfit was a bird-like fantasy that some denizens of 2channel just hated. One said it made her look like a parakeet, and others yearned for the younger, simpler Aya. There was talk about her getting more female fans and leaving her old male fans behind. Boo-hoo. Aya wrote that her outfit consisted of: ①"Desho Desho" hat, ②spangled T-shirt, ③pink corset, ④sparkly skull wristband, ⑤tight shorts with double petticoat, ⑥butterfly pantsu, ⑦boots.

Minorin had a wonderful piece in her blog. She said how nervous she was to sing at the Budokan, but that the performance made her happier than she had ever been before. When she arrived in the morning, she walked all around the hall. Even from the furthest seats, the stage seemed close enough to touch. Many people around the building greeted her, and she thanked them for the warm atmosphere and support.

When she came off the stage after her performance, the staff was very enthusiastic. She said she felt as if her feelings had reached people: she was so glad to have sung songs she loved for people she loved. She thanked people for their cards, presents, and flowers.

How wonderful it must have been for Minorin to feel that her singing was reaching people, and that her career is taking off.

Hirano Aya Plays with Galaxy Angel Dolls

Today in her blog, Hirano Aya 平野綾 showed some Galaxy Angel 2 capsule figures that have gone on sale. But she did it in an unexpected way, photographing them in situations that emphasized how "well-endowed" some of them are -- unlike Aaya herself -- and adding captions. This is about as risqué as Aaya gets, lol.

Rico: "...gyaah!"
Tequila (Aaya's character in the show): "Come now! Are you doing that on purpose?"

Nanonano: "Touch!"
Kahlua (also Aaya's character): "Oh! Come now, Nanonano!"

Anise: "Hey, why is it only us who are being shot from this bad angle?"
Lily: "I know what you mean, but take your hand off me."

On 2channel recently, the talk in the Hirano Aya thread is about how to get tickets for the open taping of an episode of Sumomo Radio that will be held 26 August, featuring all the stars of the show: Kano Yui, Hirano Aya, Miyazaki Ui, and Takahashi Hiroki.

Galaxy Angel 2 and Sumomo mo Momo mo are shows that don't get a lot of love in the West, but that Aaya seems to enjoy a lot. In GA2, her character is sexy, mature and slippery. In Sumomo, her character dresses in very revealing outfits. Aaya has done big, popular stage shows with the GA2 crew, and seems to have a lot of fun with Kano Yui of Sumomo.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Lucky☆Star: Kagami and Tsukasa's Radio Birthday Party

Katou Emiri 加藤英美里 (left) and Fukuhara Kaori 福原香織, the voice actresses for twins Kagami and Tsukasa in Lucky Star appeared on a top Japanese anime radio show on Saturday and were surprised with a cake for their characters' birthday.

The A&G Anisupa show is hosted by Washizaki Takeshi and Asano Masumi (bottom photo, far right, far left)). They also played two songs from the soon-to-be-released Lucky Star karaoke ED compilation: "Sailor Suit and Machine Gun" (Kagami) and "Valentine Day Kiss" (Tsukasa).

Washizaki-san commented that "Sailor Suit and Machine Gun" sounded as if it had been recorded in one take, that it sounded like real karaoke. Fukuhara-san replied that was true, that the recording was done that way to give it the natural feel of a real karaoke session.

The ED compilation is hilarious. Check out the final part of Hirano Aya's full version of "Cha-la Head Cha-la" here. And "Monkey Magic" here. Here is Katou Emiri's "Sailor Suit and Machine Gun". And here is Fukuhara Kaori's "Valentine's Day Kiss."

Photos from Fukuhara Kaori's blog (top two), Katou Emiri's blog (third), and A&G Anisupa Radio Show website.