Caitlin Glass is a staple of the anime industry – she’s been voice acting and directing for over 15 years, perhaps most notably on classics like Fullmetal Alchemist (Winry Rockbell) and Ouran High School Host Club (Haruhi Fujioka). We caught up with her at Matsuricon 2019 in Columbus, Ohio to chat about her directing career, the cultural impact of My Hero Academia, Shakespearean actors voicing anime characters, and a special new project that she’ll be working on soon. Let’s check out what she has to say!
Interview with Caitlin Glass – Voice of Winry, Mina Ashido, and Director of Many of Your Favorite Dubs!
What’s unique about being an ADR director (“automated dialogue replacement”/English dub director) versus voice acting?
Well, the main thing is that, as an ADR director, you’re responsible for the entire show, so you have to know everything about every character, the whole story arc... as much as you can know about it going into the recording process. You’ve watched the show, you’ve read the scripts, you work with every actor.
But when you’re the actor, all you have to be concerned with is your character. And you honestly don’t have to do any prep work at all unless the director asks you to. Maybe if you have to do something in particular or speak with a dialect, then as an actor you’ll have some prep to do. But most of the time, you come in on the day, you’re seeing your script for the first time, you’re finding out what your character is doing as it is happening to them. That’s the biggest difference.
I also saw that you did substitute directing on Case Closed right around when you started voice acting in 2004. So how did the opportunity arise for you to start doing those at around the same time?
Well, I had been voice acting for about a year and I was looking into getting into directing. At the time, multiple directors were working on Case Closed and they worked on a contract basis. So you do four episodes usually at a time.
Because it’s such a long series?
Yep. That was the most logical place to begin because they’re not going to give a brand new director their own show right off the bat, and we didn’t have any other shows starting up. So that’s where I started – I think I did maybe eight or so episodes of Case Closed, and then I was also helping other directors when they would be out of town or sick or going to a con. I would fill in for them. So I helped out on Rumbling Hearts and Mahou Sensei Negima, and the next thing I did was One Piece right when Funimation got it. We had to continue where it left off on television, so that was somewhere in the Skypiea arc I believe, and then also start off at the beginning. So I did both of those things.
I had the opportunity to talk to Tia Ballard at Colossalcon a few months ago and we discussed her role as Kagura in the new Fruits Basket. She said that you had been bugging her for years and years to watch the original series. So what drew you so much to Fruits Basket as a story?
Well, I was a fan of it when the anime came out – the first anime was my initial exposure to it, and that’s also around the time I began working at Funimation. So I watched it as a bit of research into voice acting and other voice actors that were there – I just loved the story because it was so different and unique, and I loved the central heroine character. It wasn’t a reverse harem show either, but it had so much heart and also a lot of comedy, and I really like shows like that too. So that’s why I liked it before I was directing it.
When I heard that they were going to make more Fruits Basket, I assumed that one of the other directors that are still around and were in the show would be pegged to direct it. Someone like Mike McFarland, who plays Ritsu, or Jerry Jewell, who plays Kyo. They’re my fellow directors. So I thought the gig would go to them, but I went ahead and asked. I said, “I don’t know if you producers have determined a director yet, but I’m willing to throw my name in the hat.” And I’m apparently who they wanted!
That’s good! Were you able to read the whole manga?
Yes! I’ve read the entire manga.
So is there a moment that was not in the first anime that you’re looking forward to directing?
Anything that didn’t get animated already! So anything past Kyo’s first big arc. Mainly I’m interested in seeing the rest of the Sohma family in animated form.
The first anime was a bit more comedic than the manga, but the new one closely follows the original story. Even though we haven’t yet gotten to the manga-only arcs, we’ve seen glimpses of some more serious plot points, like Shigure having some kind of ulterior motive. Those are particularly intriguing moments that I’m looking forward to seeing in the new anime.
Yes, Shigure’s dark side...
So let’s talk about My Hero Academia. One of your most popular roles right now is your portrayal of Mina Ashido, so what do you find interesting about her as a character?
I really like the way that she looks. I know that seems like an obvious answer, but she has an awesome design. I love her pink skin and her black eyes and the whole alien aspect of her is very intriguing. While she’s a normal, typical bubbly high school student, the way that she looks makes me think, “But what else is going on underneath the surface? Like, what are you really?”
Is she actually an alien?
Yeah! I wonder if she isn’t actually an alien. So I hope that we find out!
Has the success of the show surprised you at all?
No, not at all surprised. I’ve seen this before... Back when I first started voice acting, my big break was Winry in Fullmetal Alchemist, so it was awesome to be a part of that exploding fandom back in 2004 and 2005 and onward. It still continues and it’s still so many people’s first anime and it’s amazing. And then they made Brotherhood, and with that being on Netflix, everyone can watch that and get roped in. So I’ve ridden the wave of big fandoms before and My Hero Academia has all the makings of that. So we knew when we got it a few years ago that it was going to be a big deal.
What are some of the makings of a big show?
Well developed and thought out characters. I truly believe that, despite the fact that we don’t know everything about all of the characters, everyone has some kind of remarkable backstory to them. The way that they all connect with each other, the way that they inhabit the world of the show together – nobody feels like a stock character. You can really recognize how much the students in Class 1-A relate differently with this person versus that person, and what their goals are.
Yeah, they do have realistic friendships amongst each other.
And also the art – the studio that it came from, Bones, is excellent.
After all, they did Fullmetal Alchemist!
They did Fullmetal Alchemist, they did Soul Eater, they did Ouran High School Host Club. They’ve done a lot of amazing things, so we had a lot of faith in them from the beginning.
The character designs are particularly nice because they look more realistic than your average anime character.
Yeah, I really love how there aren’t a lot of skinny, waifish females. I like how Deku, especially when he first shows up, looks like a wussy, scrawny little freshman kid. And then just the superhero aspect – there’s no time like the present to get into that, since superheroes are very popular.
So I’ve been loving Astra: Lost in Space so far, which you’re directing. I did notice that it’s somewhat similar to Fruits Basket in the way that it’s a group of people who have tragic pasts, but they all band together with the power of love and friendship. Is that one of the reasons that you wanted to direct it?
I didn’t know much about it when it came down the pipe. I knew that there was a manga, so that was a reason why I wanted to direct it. SimulDubs are difficult because, if it’s an original anime, we don’t know the story until the episodes come out. We’re not given some kind of bible of the show from Japan that tells us the plot. Even though they surely know... I know how they animate, I know how studios work, you have to know... how come we don’t get to know?
So any anime that comes along that has a manga... we always want to work on that one because then we can read ahead and actually know the plot. I also liked the small unit of characters, since I like tight ensemble shows. And from the PV that I saw, I could tell that the animation was going to be good quality. So I wanted it, not knowing anything about the story. And then I was assigned the show, got the manga, read the story, and went, “Oh my gosh! This is not just going to be ‘kids in space’! This is a lot.”
It’s already showing some more of its deeper aspects. I thought that the show might just be fluffy and dumb, and it sort of is at the beginning, but it definitely gets more complex as it goes on.
Quite a few times, you’ve been involved in anime with various LGBT characters. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood has Winry’s automail teacher Garfiel, who is a homosexual stereotype. Haruhi from Ouran High School Host Club makes some comments about being gender-neutral, but that’s not discussed a lot. With your more recent projects, we have Luca from Astra: Lost in Space who is intersex, and Ritsu from Fruits Basket who is a male crossdresser. So how have you seen queer representation change over the years in the anime that you’ve worked on?
I’m honestly not sure that, in Japan, their mindset has changed very much. But when it comes to the way that things get dubbed and adapted, society here has changed.
Do you ever rewrite lines from the Japanese version to make it more acceptable for Western audiences?
It depends. We were fortunate in the case of Astra: Lost in Space that Ciarán Strange, who plays Luca, considers himself genderfluid or trans. He’s really open and supportive of the community, and also the head writer [Kristen McGuire] is part of the LGBTQ community. With the both of them, I feel like it’s in good hands. And we looked at things – here’s the way it was translated, here’s the way this moment went down in the manga... and it’s not going to fly with the community here. What’s a nicer way to put it? And it’s really just terminology. All we have to do is change this term because our culture is more used to discussing these things.
What is the terminology that you’re changing?
After Luca’s intersexuality is revealed and they’re talking about the stasis on the ship, Aries mentions that she feels like she’s gained another female friend. The thing is... if any character could say something like that, it would be Aries because she has a little bit of that airhead in her. She would mean nothing but good things by that statement, and I feel like Luca would be honored by that statement. But we were thinking of it from the perspective of how the community would take it, so we changed it to something along the lines of “It’s nice to see Luca being able to express more of his feminine side.”
Okay, and that’s a similar meaning, but it doesn’t outright call him a girl like the original line did.
So what do you like to get up to in your free time? I saw that you taught English as a Second Language in Spain for a while.
I did! That was a long time ago – about eight years ago, and when I moved back to the States I continued to teach ESL until acting and directing picked back up. In my free time, I really just like to spend time with my husband and my dogs. I don’t have a lot of free time – I wish that I did. I also enjoy theater and try to act and perform in that as much as possible.
Have you done anything recently with theater?
My last show was back in February – I did King Lear with a company I’m part of called Shakespeare in the Bar. We’ll see what I get to do next! I don’t know.
To wrap up, what do you find to be the most rewarding part of working in the anime industry?
A personally rewarding thing for me is the sharing of time with actors – as a director, I love telling the stories with the actors. It’s very fulfilling bringing these characters to life and getting to see some pretty special moments. I’m privy to them in the most organic and spontaneous way because I get to hear these performances when they are born and I feel very humbled and honored to be present for that.
Are there any special moments that you can think of?
More on Astra: Lost in Space... there’s a great moment with Christopher Dontrell Piper, who is an actor I know from theater, and he plays Ulgar. He’s got some pretty intense stuff in episode 6, and it’s also one of Chris’ first shows. I’ve worked with him in anime – I’ve brought him in to be in Garo: Vanishing Line and also Radiant, but this is the biggest role that he’s done for me. But I’ve done Shakespeare with Chris, so I know he can handle the really powerful emotions in Ulgar’s episode.
That’s interesting to have a Shakespearean actor do a big emotional scene in an anime.
And there are a lot of others. I love working with Ian Sinclair – we did some really amazing work in Fairy Gone just this past season. Every show has its moments, and with Fruits Basket, every episode is an emotional epic in that regard. So that’s what’s most rewarding on a personal, professional level, and the other thing is coming to conventions and getting to see fans and know that the work that you did matters to them as well.
Is there anything else you’re working on right now?
Funimation is putting out a pretty cool live-action movie from Japan called Kingdom about the Warring States period in China, and I’ll be working on the dub of that movie.
Dubbing live-action... that’ll be interesting. Have you ever done that before?
I have not. I’ve been in them, but I’ve never directed one. So I’m excited and I’m looking forward to it. You can catch the movie in select theaters for a week or so, but it’ll be subtitled. I don’t think the dub is coming in theaters, but it’ll be on home video.
Well, thank you so much for chatting with me! Have a great rest of your con!