In Bakemonogatari, seiyuu Saitou Chiwa 斎藤千和 is helping to create a character that could become one of the most memorable in anime: Senjougahara Hitagi.
Senjougahara has been verbally sparring with the male protagonist from the start. She is beautiful, tough and strange. And Chiwa (her given name and her nickname) is giving us a sharp, subtle characterization.
In episode 5, the sparring culminates with her bold declaration (in English): "I love you."
She demands that he give an answer to her confession of love. "I hope it becomes popular," he says. "What?" "Senjougahara fascination," he replies. And she smiles.
The Japanese is: 戦場ヶ原、蕩れ. Two episodes before, she had given a long explanation of the word ｔore 蕩れ, "fascination," saying it was a higher level of moe, and that she expected it to become a popular word in the next generation.
Senjougahara also told the protagonist that she wondered whether she had just fallen for him because he was the only one available, and that he could think that, if he wished. Direct, truthful, forward, and weird.
Chiwa was probably the first seiyuu whose name I knew. In the fall of 2004, when I was just beginning to watch anime, she starred in Tsukuyomi MoonPhase as the moe vampire Hazuki.
The first major role in her career was Kokoro in Kokoro Library. She went on to play Lavie Head in Last Exile. And then after MoonPhase, she was Becky in PaniPoni Dash and Aika in all the ARIA shows. Recently, she was Kemeko in Kemeko Deluxe.
MoonPhase and PaniPoni were both directed by Shinbou Akiyuki, the director of Bakemonogatari.
But since Becky, I have felt something was missing. She appeared to be trying to abandon her highly identifiable moe voice and become a seiyuu like all the rest, less identifiable and with wider range. I regretted this for years -- but now, with Senjougahara, she has realized her ambition and burst through the top. This is one of the best seiyuu performances of the year.
Some of Chiwa's roles:
(mouseover photos for captions)
Here, from YouTube, is a digest of Saitou Chiwa's major roles:
Senjougahara is bold and violent. Early in the series, we see her confronting the protagonist by thrusting a boxcutter and a stapler into his mouth, threatening him with bloody violence if he does not leave her alone.
But the protagonist -- played by last year's top male seiyuu, Kamiya Hiroshi -- refuses to abandon her, and saves her from a situation that had poisoned her life for years. She is grateful, yet resents the fact that she is obliged to him. Finally, in episode five, she realizes that he didn't especially save her, that he would have saved anyone, and it makes her feel less obliged.
But it also makes her love him more: "You have had the misfortune to have caught the eye of a crazy love-starved virgin who would fall utterly for the first person to show her even the slightest kindness," she declares.
The role is juicy, and Chiwa squeezes it to the last drop. She is bold and airy and strange, most aloof when she is saying the most intimate things.
The script is based on novels by inventive prose-stylist and comic novelist NisiOisiN. The anime is directed by the idiosyncratic Shinbou Akiyuki, he of the seizure-inducing patterned backgrounds and walls of text. I personally love the look of Shinbou's work, but have felt his comedy was shallow and strained. Not here. This show has both surface brilliance and human depth.
Saitou Chiwa was born 12 March 1983. She first heard about seiyuus as a child, when her mother bought a seiyuu magazine by mistake, thinking it was a fashion magazine.
In high school, little Chiwa (today she's 155cm/5'1") joined the basketball club, but had to leave the club because she couldn't get a foul shot to the basket. She concentrated on academics and scored in the top ten nationwide on mock exams in Japanese and in English.
While she was going to college, she also went to the famous Nihon Narration seiyuu school. Soon she joined top seiyuu agency I"m Enterprise.
In 2002, she was in the group Mix Juice, with three other I"m Enterprise seiyuus of her same class-year: Morinaga Rika, Ueda Kana, and Nakahara Mai. They had a year of intense live and recorded activity, then disbanded.
She herself had hits with the Tsukuyomi Moonphase OP Neko Mimi Mode and the Kemeko Deluxe ED. She did the first OP for Bakemonogatari, and having heard her before, I was amazed at how well she sang:
She is good friends with Hirohashi Ryou, who played alongside her in ARIA and in Keroro Sougun. She is also friends with several I"m Enterprise seiyuus: Ueda Kana, Takahashi Mikako, Kuwatani Natsuko, Nakahara Mai, Kugimiya Rie, and Tamura Yukari. And with others: Noto Mamiko, Hazuki Erina, Hirota Shion. She has also played in many shows with Sawashiro Miyuki, beginning with Kokoro Toshokan. And she is good friends with ARIA mangaka Amano Kozue. (mouseover photos for captions, click to enlarge)
On an overseas student trip to Europe, when a friend's bag was being stolen, she ran right after the thief and gave him a flying kick that ended up allowing him to be caught.
She once coughed up blood and had to pull back a bit on the amount of work she was doing.
She's terrible at drawing. When she did a stick-figure drawing of a scene from an anime, Tamura Yukari said it looked like a traffic accident.
She says she likes men with a bit of "romantic gray" in their hair, and often mentions Harrison Ford.
With guest Satou Rina on her TV show, M-serve Style:
Career highlights (full list of roles here and here):
(2001) Kokoro Library (TV) as Kokoro
(2003) Wandaba Style (TV) as Akimo Ayame
(2003) Last Exile (TV) as Lavie Head
(2003) R.O.D -The TV- as Anita King
(2004) Maria Watches Over Us (TV) as Yamaguchi Mami
(2004) Keroro Gunso (TV) as Hinata Natsumi
(2004) Samurai 7 (TV) as Mikumari Komachi
(2004) Girls Bravo (TV) as Kojima Kirie
(2004) DearS (TV) as Izumi Neneko
(2004) Desert Punk (TV) as Kosuna
(2004) MoonPhase (TV) as Hazuki/Luna
(2005) Zettai Shonen (TV) as Miyama Miku
(2005) Kamichu! (TV) as Tama
(2005) Pani Poni Dash! (TV) as Rebecca "Becky" Miyamoto
(2005) PetoPeto-san (TV) as Oohashi Chie
(2005) Aria the Animation (TV) as Aika S. Granzchesta
(2005) Ginban Kaleidoscope (TV) as Sakurano Yohko
(2006) Magical Witch Punie-chan (OAV) as Paya-Tan (cute); Torari
(2006) Strawberry Panic! (TV) as Tsukidate Chiyo
(2006) Yoshinaga-san'chi no Gargoyle (TV) as Yoshinaga Futaba
(2006) Kirarin Revolution (TV) as Kirisawa Aoi
(2006) Nishi no Yoki Majo - Astraea Testament (TV) as Adel Roland
(2006) Bleach the Movie: Memories of Nobody as Senna
(2007) Baccano! (TV) as Carol
(2007) Mokke (TV) as Kazama
(2007) Mobile Suit Gundam 00 (TV) as Louise Halevy
(2008) Allison & Lillia (TV) as Merielle
(2008) Kanokon (TV) as Asahina Akane
(2008) Soul Eater (TV) as Kim Diehl
(2008) Strike Witches (TV) as Francesca Lucchini
(2008) Mahō Sensei Negima! ~Shiroki Tsubasa Ala Alba~ (OAV) as Anya
(2008) Rosario + Vampire Capu2 (TV) as Shuzan Kokoa
(2008) Linebarrels of Iron (TV) as Rachel Calvin
(2008) Kemeko Deluxe! (TV) as Kemeko
(2009) Bakemonogatari (TV) as Senjougahara Hitagi
(2009) Sasameki Koto (TV) as Taema Miyako
Finally, a special treat for those of you who have made it this far: a brief episode of the Voice Crew show from a few years ago, when Chiwa and Kuwatani hosted it, with Ueda Kana as their guest. Chiwa is at her loopiest, laughing wildly and continuously eating throughout the show: