Friday, May 09, 2008

Young Seiyuus in Current Anime -- Kurenai, Wagaya no Oinari-sama

Teenage and younger seiyuus are nothing new. Yuzuyu in Aishiteruze Baby was played by nine-year-old Tsuzurahara Miyu. And Hirano Aya was 14 when she played Lumière in Kiddy Grade.

This season we have two 16-year-olds giving fine performances, and an eleven-year-old giving a convincing performance as a six-year-old.

Seven-year-old Murasaki (not nine), the heart of Kurenai, is played brilliantly by 16-year-old Yuuki Aoi 悠木碧. Yuuki-san already has quite a resumé, including three films and a number of TV dramas.

Playing Murasaki, her voice is true to the character and very expressive. It occasionally goes off the deep end, but so do most seven-year-olds. Yuuki-san has already had some anime roles, under her previous name of Yabusaki Aoi. She was Marika, Yuzuyu's rival, in Aishiteruze, and has a continuing role as Yumeno Koto in Onegai My Melody.

Also in Kurenai, six-year-old Chizuru is the victim of Murasaki's enthusiastic game-playing in episode five. As Anime Princess wrote, she sounds like a real six-year-old. And she is played by a real eleven-year-old, Imagawa Reina 今川怜奈. Imagawa-san has already been in TV dramas and commercials, but this is her first anime.

It's appropriate that these two young seiyuu should be acting opposite Sawashiro Miyuki, who started her own anime career at fourteen, as Petit Charat in Di Gi Charat. Will these two become pro seiyuus of the same quality as Miyokichi? Hard to say for someone as young as Imagawa Reina, but Yuuki Aoi's acting talent is obvious, and I expect to hear more from her.

The third young seiyuu I want to mention is at another level already. Hayami Saori 早見沙織 broke into anime at 15, playing the heroine Momoka in Touka Gettan. Now 16, she is playing Kou, a powerful but clumsy young priestess, in Wagaya no Oinari-sama. Some posters on the Japanese forum 2channel have said that they thought they were hearing Mamiko Noto, and were surprised to find out it was this young newcomer.

Hayamin has a voice that is already fairly professional, and gives subtlety to the Nagato Yuki-like expressionlessness of Kou. Her singing voice is more than slightly professional. When she left the booth after recording the ED for Touka Gettan, the staff spontaneously applauded. Her ED for Wagaya no Oinari-sama is my favorite anime music of the season.

The 2channel consensus is that as a seiyuu she is good and getting better, and as a singer she is already at a high professional level -- the kind of level I hear when I listen to Sakamoto Maaya's OP for Escaflowne, recorded when she made her anime debut at 16.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Hirano Aya Idol DVD "Love Story"

This is Aya's second idol DVD. I guess the first one last fall sold well enough that Spacecraft and Pony Canyon went ahead and made a second. At the moment, a week after its release, it is sitting seventh in sales in the idol DVD category on 7 and Y, and tenth on (click photos to enlarge)

There are several separate sequences, each featuring Aya in a different outfit, two of which are bikinis. More flesh is on view than in the first DVD. There is a loose story, with Aya's voiceover, of her meeting someone and going out with him. She sometimes faces the camera as if the viewer were her date.

But the most interesting parts of the DVD show Aya playing UNO with some girlfriends. The girls sit around playing cards and talking "girl talk" of various kinds with Aya: about what kind of boys attract her, etc. The camera is on Aya the whole time. Several-minute-long segments of this are used to divide the various sequences.

If you've always wondered what her normal voice sounds like (if a seiyuu has a "normal voice"), this may be the place to find out. It isn't the high, speedy cute-girl voice she displays in TV appearances, but the voice of a normal Japanese college student and society girl, it seems to me.

These bits are quite informal, and evidently unscripted -- although they probably had the basic direction of the conversation planned out ahead of time. But you see her thinking, and hear spur-of-the moment jokes from her and others. You never see any of the other girls, who may be her manager and stylist, etc.

In any case, as usual, Aya comes across to me as a fairly smart, natural, and attractive person. Not a quick-thinking, sophisticated entertainer, but more like an ordinary college student (even though she did drop out in first year, probably due to work pressure). The topics are somewhat interesting and amusing, but nothing deep at all. My ability to understand rapid colloquial Japanese is highly imperfect, though, so I'd be glad to hear from others what impression they got from the talk.

I enjoyed the whole DVD, including the bikini pics, but I admit to feeling a bit uncomfortable with the progressive uncovering. Some people on 2channel keep saying she will end up in adult videos. That won't happen, but I hope commercial pressures don't move her too close to it. The idol videos selling more than hers look as if they tend to be more uncovered, too.

As in her blog, she is determined to show us that she is now an adult. One sequence has her as a stylish woman drinking at a bar -- and also as the bartender.

The shooting was done in Guam. They flew her there for a weekend last winter.

The region-free 41-minute DVD is available from Amazon Japan (US$28 + shipping) and other sources.

But if you just want to hear her work as a seiyuu, I can't recommend too highly the current anime Nijuu-mensou no Musume (it's also called Chico, Daughter of the Phantom Thief, or The Daughter of Twenty-Faces). For me, this is among her best seiyuu work, especially from episode 3 on. Nothing could be more different from Konata. If anything, it's more like a young version of her voice as Layla in NANA.