Thursday, July 01, 2010

Seiyuu Endou Aya: Late-Blooming Beauty

Endou Aya 遠藤綾 got her big break in 2007, with the role of Miyuki in Lucky Star. But unlike many successful seiyuus, who are in their late teens or early twenties when they first make a name for themselves, she was already 27.

She was a late-bloomer, but she has made up for lost time with lots of strong roles in recent years. And not only is she one of the best seiyuus in Japan, in my opinion she may be the most beautiful (as opposed to "cute").

Here is a brief outline of her life and her work, with photos and video clips. (Click images to enlarge.)

Macross Frontier
Lucky Star was her big break, but the peak of her success was the role of Sheryl Nome in Macross Frontier. For that, she not only won the hearts of most otaku, she also won the Seiyuu Award for 2008 as best supporting actress.

And for good reason. The breathy warmth of her voice enveloped you, and she fully sold Sheryl's combination of strength, guile, affection, and despair.

Hanasakeru Seishounen
Sheryl was a great character, but she is not my favorite Aya-san character. That is Kajika Burnsworth in Hanasakeru Seishounen. Kajika is a boyish 16-year-old, the daughter of a billionaire, and she has been brought up alone on an island with a leopard as her constant companion. She herself is also like a leopard: wild, bold, innocent, and easily strong.

Aya-san has said that the role was very difficult for her to figure out, but that after a first episode in which she just acted "like an adult," she forgot about trying to push anything and simply reacted to the lines people said to her. Her performance is inconsistent -- as the script is, too -- but for me Kajika is one of the most memorable characters in anime. Aya gives her a clean energy that is so winning: complete purity of heart.

Aya-san's Voice
Aya can make her breathy contralto voice work in a wide variety of roles, from boys and boyish girls to seductive and strong women, as well as shy teens. She even has the comic voice of Matsu in Sekirei, although that is not so successful, for me. And her voice is in some demand for narration, which she did in Genji Monogatari Sennenki and Engage Planet Kiss Dum, in addition to her roles in those shows.

Aya says she always loved anime, and wanted to be a seiyuu in part because she thought she could then get to see anime before other people did. No-one around her wanted to be a seiyuu, but that didn't bother her, she says, since she was always someone who tended to go against the flow. It also fascinated her that when she saw seiyuus live on TV, they were so different from their roles.

She went to seiyuu school immediately after graduating from high school. She attended the school run by her now long-time agency, Office PAC, because her parents were familiar with its head, Nozawa Nachi. She says that the school focused a lot on building up her physical strength, and not much on the acting that she thinks is actually the key to being a seiyuu.

Aya-sama's roles
Her first roles were unnamed roles in Demon Lord Dante in 2002 and Shima Shima Toro no Shimajiro in 2003. Then in 2004, she got eight roles, four of which were named, including Albert de Morcerf as a child, in The Count of Monte Cristo.

She marked time in 2005 and 2006 with various minor roles, including Imari in Inukami and Kasumi in Okusama wa Joushi Kousei.

But then in 2007 came not only Lucky Star (Miyuki), but also Gundam00 (Kinue Crossroad), and Maple Story (Nina). At the time, some people lamented that Aya-san was the best seiyuu among the leads of Lucky Star, but had the fewest lines. Liking both Hirano Aya and Katou Eiri as I do, I don't think I'd go that far, but she definitely created a character in Miyuki.

Macross Frontier came in 2008, and since then Aya-san has had a steady stream of good roles, among them Angelique in the Neo-Angelique shows, Lena Sayers in My-Otome 0~S.ifr~, and Matsu in Sekirei (all 2008); Kajika in Hanasakeru Seishounen, Yuuki in Kanamemo, and both Murasaki and the narrator in Genji Monogatari Sennenki (all 2009).

In 2010, she has been Filicia in So-Ra-No-Wo-To and Bachou in Ikkitousen: Xtreme Xecutor, and is reprising her role as Matsu in Sekirei: Pure Engagement this summer.

Here are pics of some of her roles (mouseover for captions):

Kinue Crossroad (Gundam00) Sheryl (Macross Frontier) Lena Sayers (My-Otome 0~S.ifr~) Angelique Matsu (Sekirei) Murasaki (Genji Sennenki) Kajika (Hanasakeru Seishounen) Yuuki (Kanamemo) Filicia (Sora no Woto) Bachou (Ikkitousen Xtreme Xecutor)

There is a complete list at the end of this post.

She has done a certain amount of dubbing of foreign movies and films, notably an episode of ER, but she has done more games (no ero-games), and that work seems to be increasing. She was in ten games last year, and has been in 13 already this year. She has been in two Canvas3 games, two Real Rode games, Granada Espada, Rune Factory 3, Luminous Arc 3, Agarest Senki 2, Ar Tonelico 3, End of Eternity, and Princess Lover, Lucky Star, and Sora no Woto games, among many others.

She has also done a number of drama CDs, including four as Angelique in the Neo-Angelique series, and four starring as Mireille in the Substitute Duke series. I would love to see an anime of Substitute Duke (link to manga) a period comedy in which a commoner girl masquerades as a young Duke.

With Kawaragi Shiho and Mizuno Manabi, she was part of a seiyuu idol group called Plume. They had a radio show called "Plume Story" in 2006 and 2007. Here are a couple of photos from that time:

In an interview published in the summer of 2008, Aya-san says that her role in Maple Story really taught her a lot. She was acting with a lot of top experienced pros, and her character of Nina was not a very nice person. She enjoyed being hard on people, she laughed.

When she auditioned for the role of Sheryl in Macross Frontier, at first she thought the role just wasn't her, but during the audition, she really started to feel it, and the audition was about as satisfying as doing a real episode.

It was hard for her to play such a forceful character, but she just forgot herself and began to enjoy it. To her, acting is not technique but more forgetting oneself and becoming the character. Although she has a long way to go, she feels as if she is getting deeper and deeper into her characters during recording.

What kinds of characters would she like to play? She laughed. "A noisy and obstreporous person who destroys the atmosphere. Up to now, I have played traditional women, and I would like to play a troublemaker who causes difficulties for everyone around her."

She listens to conversations at other tables in a restaurant, and observes even her conversations with friends, to learn how people speak, so that she can put meaning into the lines she is given to say.

with Koshimizu Ami

Aya-san posts regularly but not too frequently in her blog. She writes about things she likes, and about the manga for her roles. She publishes photos of herself, but often with her face obscured by shadow or writing. Many of the entries, friendly as they sound, are not very intimate. Even in live videos, she sometimes seems to be hiding her face. Despite the fact she is so beautiful (in my opinion), perhaps she doesn't think so herself.

She did publish one rather intimate blog post, in which she showed photos of the various things she has around her in the bath: bath salts, body cream, manga, a bottle of water to drink, even frozen sherbet to eat. That post set her fans' imaginations alight on 2channel.

In videos, she seems quite natural, to the point of being a bit flaky. I sense she is a bit fey, and hard to grasp.

Born 17 February 1980 in Yamagata province, about 400km (250mi) northwest of Tokyo, on Japan's west coast. Height 160cm (5'3"). Has a younger sister. Her stage name is her real name.

Live videos
2008 interview with Saitou Chiwa about Sheryl and Macross Frontier:

Here she is in a rather informal publicity video for the Drama CD Migawari no Hakushaku ("Substitute Duke") in which she stars:

Publicity spot for the release of the Blu-Ray box of Sekirei:

Finally, here she is with Imai Asami, saying she feels tired and that she isn't someone who talks much, because it embarrasses her:

Next, to get an idea of what her work is like, here are two clips showing her in her two best roles: as Sheryl in Macross Frontier and as Kajika in Hanasakeru Seishounen. It's the same voice, but the effect is so different in the two roles.

First, here's Aya-san as Sheryl, with Nakamura Yuuichi, from episode 16 of Macross Frontier:

And here she is as Kajika, with Fukuyama Jun, from episode 14 of Hanasakeru Seishounen:

Anime News Network page
Wikipedia page
agency site
Aya-san's blog
Japanese Wikipedia
2008 interview (Japanese)

Full list of anime work

Demon Lord Dante

Shima Shima Torano Shima Jirou

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo (Albert de Morcerf - young)
Girls Bravo (Kiltie-chan, et al.)
Galaxy Railroad (Morgana)
Saiyuki Reload Gunlock (Rin)
Samurai 7 (actress A)
Monster (Inge, Coletta, et al.)
LOVE♥LOVE? (student B)
Hamtaro movie (Asa-chan)

Emma: A Victorian Romance (Mary)
Oku-sama wa Joshi Kousei (Horiguchi Kasumi)
Girls Bravo 2 (student A)
Gakauen Alice (child, ep19)

Kiba (Daraujio, Sagiri, Pin)
Kujibiki Unbalance (student)
Inukami! (Imari)
Zegapain (Sogoru Misaki, et al.)
Tokko (Shiraishi Yukino, ep 4-5)
Fushigiboshi no Futagohime Gyu (Torowa)
Genshiken OVA (Kasukabe friend A)

Engage Planet Kiss Dum (Rukina Noa, narration)
Corda D'Oro ~primo passo~ (Takashina Ayano, ep14)
Lucky Star (Takara Miyuki)
Mokke (Yuu)
Mobile Suit Gundam 00 (Kinue Crossroad)
MapleStory (Nina)
Emma: A Victorian Romance 2 (Mary, Fanny)
Claymore (Claymore A, ep11)
Genshiken 2 (Nakajima)
Soukyoku Kyoukai Polyphonica (Christa)
Ghost Hound (Namie)
Inukami The Movie (Imari)
Tsubasa Tokyo Revelations (Yuzuriha)

Macross Frontier (Sheryl Nome)
My-Otome 0~S.ifr~ (Lena Sayers)
Neo Angelique Abyss (Angelique)
Neo Angelique Abyss 2 (Angelique)
Sekirei (Matsu)
Kemeko Deluxe! (Vanilla Make Repairs)
Gintama (Uchino)
Shugo Chara (Eriko, ep35)
Blassreiter (Meifong)
Blue Dragon (Rinda)
Pokemon Diamond and Pearl (Sumomo)

Sora Kake Girl (Kannagi Itsuki)
Genji Monogatari Sennenki (Murasaki, narrator)
Basquash! (Spanky)
Hanasakeru Seishounen (Kajika Louisa Kugami Burnsworth)
Kanamemo (Minami Yuuki)
To aru Kagaku no Railgun (Tessou Tsuduri)
Aoi Bungaku (Mitsuki in Jigoku Hen)
Shikabane Hime Kuro (Fresh Backbone)
Souten Kouro (Miko, ep 6)
Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 (Risa)
Needless (Cruz Schild/Yamada)
Macross Frontier ~Itsuwari no Utahime~ movie (Sheryl)
Fullmetal Alchemist "The Blind Fullmetal Alchemist" OVA (Rosari)

So-Ra-No-Wo-To (Filicia Heideman)
Battle Spirits: Shounen Gekiha Dan (Kenzou Hyoudou; Maid B,  ep 36)
Ikkitousen: Xtreme Xecutor (Bachou Mouki)
Senkou no Night Raid (Airin, ep 5)
Sekirei: Pure Engagement (Matsu)
Major 6 (Sakikawa, ep10)


Jeremias von Sand said...

I seem to remember that Endou-san was the only seiyuu not to sing in the Lucky Star Concert a few years ago, I thought then- maybe there's something wrong with her live-singing, like with Aoki Sayaka (Kyon's Imouto- well, I guess singing with the voice of the character she played would be almost impossible live at the Haruhi no Gekisou), however, I have not heared about that Lucky Star concert ever again, though it was written about at the ANN, I believe. Anyhow, I remembered about that after reading this entry and somehow got in that strange kind of curiousity, where people prefer to ask, than to look for the awnser themselves.

hashi said...

@Jeremias von Sand -- She said in her blog that she had prior work commitments that made it impossible.

I don't know if that was the real reason, but I'm guessing it was: hard to get so many seiyuus free for long enough to rehearse and perform, so maybe rather than wait until everyone was free -- and Lucky Star was even further in the past -- they went ahead without her.

I don't think her singing can be that bad: she was part of a singing group once (Plume), and did do a character album. And seiyuu singing is not at that high a standard anyway.

Westlo said...

I'll like to think that Miyuki opened the door for her slightly and Sheryl than closed the door and proceed to kick it off the hinges.

hashi said...

@Westlo -- Lol. Well put.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, her performance as Kajika is a favorite for me as well. As a fan of the manga, I was skeptical when I first heard she was cast. Mainly because Kajika's voice is explicitly described in the manga as being "low, like a boy's, but also like a girl's, transparent, but also warm" in a particularly memorable scene, and I was familiar only with Endou's work as Sheryl and Murasaki. I liked her in both roles, but they were also both more feminine roles, and her voice didn't strike me as being androgynous or ambiguous enough to equal the description.

Of course the problem lies mostly with the description itself. It's specific enough that one has a pretty good idea of what kind of person Kajika should be, but too ambiguous for the actor to know what it should sound like. But all that doubt and anxiety proved to be silly, because I of course ended up really liking her performance. It's girlish without being girly or pretentious, forthright without being too exaggerated.