Greg Ayres is a veteran voice actor who’s played over 300 roles in anime and video games throughout his decades-long career. You may recognize him as Kaoru from Ouran High School Host Club, Monokuma from Danganronpa, Izumi from Love Stage, and Leo from Ghost Stories. We spoke to him at Anime Boston 2022 about his acting process, his relationship with the anime fan community, his DJ skills, and much more!
So you’ve voiced quite a few LGBT characters...
Yeah! Such as Izumi from Love Stage, etc. How have you seen the portrayal of the LGBT community change and evolve in anime over the years?
I think that when you saw LGBT characters in the past, it was very fetishized or very... yaoi’d up... (laughs) Not a very true representation of LGBT relationships, and I think that’s changing. I guess it’s controversial to say, but I don’t really have a problem with the fanfiction-y side of it because it is fiction, but I’m happy to see that things like slice-of-life anime have come into their own. I’m very happy to see real representation, and not just of men, but of women as well. And now we have trans and non-binary characters appearing in shows.
But with anime, sometimes we’re about four or five years behind the actual curve because we’re dealing with the fact that animation takes a while to produce, and as much as we don’t like to say it, a lot of what is produced follows trends and it’s usually about a day late that the trends snap to what’s actually going on. But I think as time goes on, I think we’re going to see better and more broad representation and I’m fine with that.
And there are more people working in the industry that are LGBT now. I mean, when I started, in Japan I only knew of like two out and outspoken LGBT people. Granted, that was 20-some years ago, but now it’s very common to see people with pronouns on their badges. I think that it’s nice that as we move forward as a people that our art reflects that, too. Because this is an artistic reflection of real life.
You do a lot of DJ-ing, too. What do you enjoy about that versus voice acting?
DJ-ing at a convention is the thing that I do that I feel like I’m putting back into the show. There’s so much work that goes on to get a rave up and off of its feet that people will never know – the technical nightmares, fighting with the hotel, getting permits in some cities... that’s a lot of work. But, to me, I’ve always thought of the raves as like “Nerd Prom” because I didn’t want to dance with anybody I was in high school with, but a bunch of people with cat ears on? Let’s do it!
But, to me, it’s also... I’m sure you can understand the situation that I find myself in this year... putting a smile on my face is a tall order some days. And being able to play music is almost like an exorcism. I can just get up on stage and be crazy and then, no matter how hard of a day I’ve had, it’s been worth it because I saw this dude kiss this girl or I saw this person who was very shy doing the Caramelldansen! (laughs) I get to see those things happen. I know that my job as an actor brings people enjoyment, but that’s something I did two months ago, or a year ago. This is something I’m doing right now to make the event more fun and to earn a little bit of this. (claps) I think it’s weird to get that for something I did a while ago. But to work really hard and see everyone having a good time, that feels like I’ve done a good job.
And I also do other things, too. There’s one convention that I do, because I’m crazy, where I’m a triple department head. I actually help run a few conventions. So I like being a part of the community. I like being a part of the whole microcosm that is an anime convention, so DJ-ing is just one part of that. I’d play music if nobody was listening – I’d just be in my room banging out tunes, but I like doing it somewhere where I can turn other people on to music. Like, I thought I was being crafty – I got this Dutch house mix of the new Psy song, and I was like, “I’m going to drop this – it just came out two days ago.” There was a girl in the front row who knew all of the choreography already, and I’m like, “What is this!?” So that’s also fun for me, being surprised. When I first started DJ-ing at conventions, it was just DDR music, and now to see kids that have this sophisticated musical palate as a lot of anime fans do now, it’s awesome. It’s so cool.
I have a little [convention] in Kentucky in a few weeks. I think it was so funny, the first time we did it was in Paducah, Kentucky and they said, “Did you realize you’re throwing the first rave in Paducah?” And I thought to myself, “Thirty years after the rave scene started...” But you know what? That’s their rave, and I’m stoked to be the guy that brings it, so it’s fun – I love it.
What con is it?
And the kids that started that show – I love them so much – they were like, “You know, we love conventions, but we also love Kentucky. We don’t think we should have to drive to Otakon to have a convention.” And the first year they did their show, all of their guests cancelled except me. So that first year, I was like... (mimics a song and dance) But just making something cool in their own hometown worked, and they have some of the coolest programming and neat ideas I’ve ever seen. Their program guides look like – they’ve all been different, but the first year it was like a PS1 game, and then it was a Wii game, but the program guide is inside of a thing like a booklet. They’ve got some great ideas, so if you’re in the area, it’s OMG!con [on June 24 – 26th] and it’s a lot of fun. In fact, in the Nerima Daikon Brothers extra, I’m wearing the very first OMG!con t-shirt. It just says, “OMG!”
What do you find to be the most rewarding part of your career?
I met her, I hung out with her kids, and she actually used to come to the club I worked at when I first started DJ-ing as a teenager. So I said, “Hey, come to the rave, I actually know how to do this now.” I looked backstage at one moment, and she was sitting there crying. And I said, “Hey, are you okay?” And she’s like, “Yeah, I’m more than okay. My daughter is out in that crowd dancing.” And I was like, “That’s cool!” And she was like, “No, my daughter doesn’t make friends with people. She goes to a school where everybody treats her like an alien, and she’s not excited about things, and she leads a very isolated existence. And just being here today, I’ve watched my daughter blossom because she’s around people like herself.”
And I’m not even saying that I have anything to do with that, but being a part of this whole microcosm, this whole entertainment/convention/anime community industry, the fact that this is something that is a huge deal for the people involved in it, and for kids especially that go through a time in their life where they feel isolated or whatever... just to even be a part of any of that is like being a superhero. To have somebody come up to me and say, “Hey, during lockdown I thought I was losing my mind, and then I discovered this weird show called Puni Puni Poemy, and I laughed until I thought I was going to cry.” Or someone saying, “I was taking care of an elderly parent, and one night a week I allowed myself to watch Saiyuki.” Just to be a part of anything that makes the day-to-day garbage okay... there’s no price tag you can put on that.
I don’t over-inflate my part in that, but just to be a part of it. Just being a part of this thing that’s so important to people is the best job I’ve ever had. I get super emotional about that. Just watching this world transform people and shelter people and ease people through a time of life that’s really hard... man, that’s the coolest thing in the world. You know, I used to make a lot of money and work for a bunch of lawyers that yelled at me all the time. Not so much fun! I’ll take being a broke actor as a part of this cool floating universe any day of the week over that.
Whether it’s helping throw a dance, or organizing a convention, or running food orders to people that are working in the vendor’s hall, it takes all of us to make this weird little floating convention happen in a different city every weekend. And the fact that we’re here! We made it through a historical world event. We got very emotional backstage watching that “Coming Home” video where they were putting together Anime Boston because we haven’t seen each other in three years. To be a part of all this, that’s the most rewarding.
Greg Ayres clearly loves his career and the community that makes it all possible. His energy is infectious and the care he puts into every aspect of his work is heartwarming. We wish him the best of luck in the future and hope to see him in many more anime (and at many more conventions) for years to come!
What did you think of our interview? Did you learn any new and interesting tidbits about Greg Ayres? Let us know in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!