Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Seiyuu Sawashiro Miyuki -- One of a Kind

SAWASHIRO Miyuki 沢城みゆき is a great seiyuu and a strange bird. She spends her time reading, likes classical music, dresses older than her 23 years, and speaks gently, but with great confidence in her own opinions.

She started in anime at 14 (born in Tokyo 1985.06.02), and has been working ever since. She graduated from university earlier this year, and now is branching out into live theatre.

At an age at which other seiyuu are considered newcomers, she is a seasoned veteran, with 110 anime roles under her belt, including her first role of Puchiko in Di Gi Charat, and her most famous role, that of Shinku in Rozen Maiden. She was Claire in Red Garden, Hagino in Blue Drop, and Shinkuro in Kurenai, and has important roles in three new shows that start this week.

She describes herself as "terribly laid-back," and speaks softly and carefully in interviews (such as this one). She seems fairly serious and controlled, but has a dry wit and a wonderful happy laugh.

But she tells people exactly what she thinks, without regard for age or experience. Some older seiyuus (Kaneda Tomoko, for one) have been taken aback by her pointed criticisms. So has the director of Kurenai, who said plaintively that she kept changing the lines he had written.

Miyukichi (her nickname) is among the most versatile of all current seiyuus. She can play everyone from little girls through young men to mature women, and from flying cat-boys to sleepy nature goddesses, and her voice can be everything from sweet to harsh to sexy.

Some people call her a jack of all trades and master of none. I think that is because she is so versatile that you can't identify her with one particular voice. But it is true that there is something so under-control about her work that it can seem dry. She is not so much a pretty voice as a fine vocal technician who is a good actress and becoming a better one.

The role that really turned me on to her work was Hagino in Blue Drop (2007), but she is most famous for Puchiko in Di Gi Charat (her debut role, 1999) and Shinku in Rozen Maiden (2004). (mouseover photos for captions, click to enlarge)

puchiko - di gi charat mint blancmanche - galaxy angel shinku - rozen maiden

Her Claire in Red Garden (2006) was also outstanding, as was her Shibasaki in Library Wars (2008).

She was Mint Blancmange in Galaxy Angel, Kagura in Onegai My Melody, Ibara-hime in Otogijushi Akazukin, Shinkuro in Kurenai, Reika in Goshuushou-sama Ninomiya-kun, and the landlady in Hidamari Sketch. I could go on and on. There is a list of some of her roles at the end of this piece. Here is a video digest of her main roles.

claire - red garden hagino - blue drop shinkuro - kurenai

She has prominent roles in three interesting shows this fall season: she plays Kotoha in Yozakura Quartet (starts Thursday), Satoru in Linebarrels of Iron (starts Friday), and Aoba in Kannagi (starts Saturday).

at the audition for di gi charat, when she was 13Sawashiro-san's career began in 1999, when she was 13. At a public audition for the lead role in Di Gi Charat, she impressed the producers so much that they gave her the role of little Puchiko in the show. Even at the audition (YouTube), you can hear the energy, range, and precision of her voice, and can see how self-possessed she seems for someone so young.

She kept working, getting more roles year by year through high school, then burst forth with 24 roles in 2006. That has dropped back to a somewhat more manageable 16 and 17 roles in 2007 and 2008. Her agency is Mausu Promotions, which also represents Ono Daisuke (whom Miyukichi calls "O.D.") and Ishida Akira.

Through this past summer, 2channel has had a running argument about comments made by Matsuo Kou, the director/writer of Kurenai, in which Miyukichi starred as the male protagonist Shinkuro. The director said she did not address him with the proper respect and kept changing the script.

But listening to the radio show on which he said it (nicovideo), it sounds to me as if his comments were made in good humor. And now Matsuo-san has chosen her to star in his new show, Yozakura Quartet. In fact, she appears to be his favorite seiyuu, having acted in his other shows Rozen Maiden and Red Garden. He probably first met her when he was a unit director on Galaxy Angel.

Tanaka Rie says that on the set of Rozen Maiden, Miyukichi always seemed to be the chairman of the group, even though the other seiyuus were older than she was.

And she is evidently fairly free with her opinions of others' approaches. "Sawashiro-san really scolds me," Kaneda Tomoko once said.

There is a series of features on the Blue Drop DVDs (YouTube) in which Miyukichi interviews director Ohkura Masahiko (left) and mangaka Yoshitomo Akihito -- and manages to talk as much as either of them.

She gives the feeling that she is outwardly mild, but inwardly clever and challenging. She seems an irresistible force, like water.

She dresses older than her age, and sometimes wears seriously frumpy outfits. She does not always look as pretty as she is -- although I like all these photos, anyway.

And she has had many different hairstyles, some fairly awful, as she makes extreme and but usually fruitless efforts to disguise how (beautifully) broad her face is:

Bits and pieces:
  • she does not eat meat, but does eat fish.
  • she has one sibling, a younger brother.
  • she likes classical music.
  • she went to a college in Tokyo, but we don't know which one or what she majored in.
  • her English pronunciation is passable, and she has spoken English in a couple of her roles, for example in the second ED for Red Garden.
  • when she played the eldest sister in Kokoro Toshokan, she was the youngest among the seiyuus.

with Shintani Ryouko

Her closest friend in the business appears to be Sanada Asami (below, left), who won that long-ago audition to play Di Gi Charat. If you watch video #4 of the audition, Asami is #12 and Miyukichi is #15. They have now been together in several shows over the years.

with Sanada Asami Red Garden cast - Shintani Ryouko, Tsuji Ayumi, Tomisaka Akira, Sawashiro Miyuki, Fukuen Misato (l-r)

She is also supposed to be friendly with such seiyuu as Nazuka Kaori, Koshimizu Ami, and Sanpei Yuuko, as well as Kugimiya Rie, Kobayashi Yu, Tamura Yukari, Tsuji Ayumi, and Kimura Haruka. She and Yukarin have been seen in close conversation at an event, knee to knee, stroking each other's hair. She has also been friendly with Gotou Saori, her co-star in Rakugo Tennyou Oyui, although there are rumours that they have fallen out for some reason.

Kurenai cast - Masu Nozomi (Ginko), Yuuki Aoi (Murasaki), Miyuki with Seki Tomokazu and Tanaka Atsuko

Many people have recognized her talent, but a quote from top seiyuu Seki Tomokazu stands out: "Make no mistake, this is a being who will take the seiyuu world somewhere."

She is an excellent vocal technician, with a wide range of voices and intonations and the ability to use them at will -- despite the fact that she never did go to seiyuu school. And now she is concentrating on dramatic acting, as you can hear in Red Garden or Blue Drop or Kurenai.

I'm sure a director can feel confident that she will produce a good voice for almost any character. But I think she's still finding something that will make her roles more memorable. I have a hunch that Miyukichi has only just begun, and will be showing us more and more in the years ahead.

She joined the comic theatre group Gekidango late last year, and has been in three of their productions. To see a bit of what she is doing on the live stage, go to this page and click the little TV screen near the top right of the page for a brief video. The photos below are from the theatre group's site:


hosting a Blue Drop DVD feature

Roles (selected):
(1999) Di Gi Charat (TV) as Puchiko/Petit Charat
(2001) Galaxy Angel (TV) as Mint Blancmanche
(2001) Kokoro Library (TV) as Iina
(2002) Pita Ten (TV) as Higuchi Kotarou
(2004) Rozen Maiden (TV) as Shinku
(2004) DearS (TV) as Khi
(2004) Onegai My Melody (TV) as Kogure Kakeru
(2005) D.C.S.S. ~Da Capo Second Season~ (TV) as Kudou Kanae
(2005) Pani Poni Dash! (TV) as Serizawa Akane
(2005) Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid (TV) as Xia Yu Lan
(2005) My-Otome (TV) as Sara Gallagher
(2006) Utawarerumono (TV) as Aruru
(2006) Otogi-Jushi Akazukin (TV) as Ibara-hime
(2006) Red Garden (TV) as Claire Forrest
(2007) Les Miserables - Shoujo Cosette (TV) as Beatrice
(2007) Nodame Cantabile (TV) as Chiaki (young)
(2007) Kamichama Karin (TV) as Kujyou Kazune
(2007) Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei (TV) as Maria Taro Sekiutsu
(2007) Dead Girls (OAV) as Claire Forrest
(2007) Naruto Shippuuden (movie) as Shizuku
(2007) Blue Drop: Tenshi-tachi no Gikyoku (TV) as Senkouji Hagino
(2007) Goshuushou-sama Ninomiya-kun (TV) as Houjou Reika
(2007) Shugo Chara! (TV) as Yoru (Ikuto's shugo chara)
(2008) Kure-nai (TV) as Kurenai Shinkurou
(2008) Library War (TV) as Shibasaki Asako
(2008) Hidamari Sketch × 365 (TV) as Landlady
(2008) Strike Witches (TV) as Perrine-H. Clostermann
(2008) Yozakura Quartet (TV) as Isone Kotoha
(2008) Linebarrels of Iron (TV) as Yamashita Satoru
(2008) Kannagi: Crazy Shrine Maidens (TV) as Aoba Tsugumi

roles by type:
110 anime roles
50 games (no ero-games)
15 dubbing roles
2 stage performances
9 radio shows, two current
51 music CDs (for characters, not in her own name)
98 drama CDs

anime roles by year:
plus 17 OVAs and movies


Sunday, September 28, 2008

2008 So Far -- My Favorite Shows

As I see my taste drifting further and further from that of a lot of other anime fans, I thought I'd just run through the year and figure out which anime have been my favorites so far.

My favorite show of the summer season was definitely Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto -- Natsu no Sora. Lots of people have criticized the photographic backgrounds and simplified human figures, but I think both of those work brilliantly. The music has been outstanding, especially the OP by Thyme, and the ED and insert songs by micc.

The story built up slowly, letting us learn about the characters from their words, their actions, and their silences. And the final four episodes have been moving and deep: events and feelings reaching an almost spiritual peak, with nary a cliche in sight.

Hanazawa Kana's voice is not to everyone's taste -- one person has said it sounded like a ten-year-old's -- but for me she has one of the most moe voices in anime, one that is always able to move me. In this show, the combination of her character's moe vulnerability, powerful magic, and strong determination were a heady brew.

My favorite show of the year, if it isn't Natsu no Sora, may well be true tears, the conflicted romance drama that aired last winter. Takagaki Ayahi gave a taste of just how good her acting is, and she confirmed that with her performance in the second season of Da Capo 2. The complex emotions of all the characters were both interesting and powerful.

From the spring season, I enjoyed Daughter of Twenty-Faces and Macross Frontier for most of their runs, but both ultimately let me down.

Hirano Aya's voice work was brilliant in Daughter of Twenty-Faces: a bit stilted, but full of passion. And the fantasy 1950s Japan setting was unique. But the story, after a first half that was strong and moving, began to spin its wheels. Twenty-faces' numerous deaths and resurrections, and Chiko's numerous skin-of-the-teeth escapes, eventually became too much even for me.

I kept defending the show as being something like Batman, but now I remember that I never liked Batman that much. I still love both the OP by 369 and the ED by Hirano Aya.

There's no getting around it, Macross Frontier has wonderful music. The BGM by Kanno Youko is great, and all the OPs, EDs and insert songs are moving. May'N's strong voice and Nakajima Megumi's touching one work beautifully. And the battle scenes, complete with music and light shows, were sometimes brilliant.

But the story just broke down for me. It was all logical, but it became convoluted and pointless. And the lead male character was too hard to read. I thought they wrote Alto poorly, making him inconsistent just for the sake of preserving the Macross romantic triangle.

The gentle yuri comedy Candy Boy was a revelation, giving us more in its 15-minute episodes than most anime do in twice that time. The feelings of the characters are conveyed beautifully by the plot and the excellent voice-acting of Nabatame Hitomi and Yuzuki Ryouka.

I have to mention a couple of other spring shows. I just watched episode 24 of Itazura na Kiss, and ended up with tears rolling down my cheeks. The show often tried my patience through its run, with puerile and repetitive humor and a lead male who took around 20 episodes to stop being a complete jerk. But it was a fine shoujo anime, in the end, with some uniqueness about it, especially in the final few episodes. And the ending is supposedly what the mangaka -- who died tragically before finishing the manga -- originally planned.

Another shoujo show, Vampire Knight, did even more for me, with its strong male voice-acting from Miyano Mamoru and Kishio Daisuke, and its atmosphere soaked in blood and suppressed sensuality. The manga is better, but when was it otherwise? I'm looking forward to season two, which starts next Monday night.

Kure-nai was a good show, with outstanding voice-acting all round. The basic situation, and the personality of the little girl, Murasaki, were fascinating. But it also seemed to lack direction, perhaps because the motivations of the characters were not shown enough: I knew what they were supposed to be, but I couldn't feel them. And sometimes people did things I just couldn't believe.

Three episodes of Kara no Kyoukai have popped up through the year, and every one of them has been excellent. This is how to plot an anime, with everything leading in the same direction: direct to and from the hideous murders that are the heart of the show. Sakamoto Maaya is at her best.

Bounen no Xamdo snuck up on me. I didn't know anything about it until several episodes in. But it seems to be a very well made shounen adventure in the tradition of Eureka Seven or Last Exile. It suffers from the standard puerile humor and the presence of silly monsters (my personal bugbear), but the story has worked so far and the voice-acting is outstanding, particularly from Orikasa Fumiko and from Sanpei Yuuko, who played Renton in Eureka Seven, but is the Eureka character here.

I also want to mention another show from last winter, Spice & Wolf -- not for the show, but for the voice-acting of Koshimizu Ami, who stars as Horo, the ageless wolf-goddess who usually takes the form of a teenaged girl. Her voice wraps itself around a very complex character quite brilliantly. For me, hers is the best seiyuu performance of the year so far.

You may have noticed the new banner image at the top of the page. It is from an old painting of two sisters who are important characters in the last ten chapters of the Tale of Genji, which was written by a Japanese court lady around 1000AD, and may be the first true novel in the world. The sisters lived with their father, a disgraced prince, in a little house near the bridge at Uji, south of Kyoto. Because they lived near the bridge, they were called the "bridge princesses," or "hashihime."