If we’re talking prolific voice actors, Monica Rial is definitely towards the top of the list. Since 1999, she has voiced hundreds of characters in roles both big and small. Perhaps Monica’s most well-known role throughout the years would be Bulma from Dragon Ball Z as she has continued to be the blue-haired bombshell with each new season. We got a chance to sit down with the woman of many voices and ask her about being a voice actor as well as inquire as to what is personally important to her.
When the Japanese voice actress for Bulma passed away in 2017, how did that make you feel?
It hit me REALLY hard when we went in for a game and she was still ‘there’ but it was after she passed. It sucks because it’s that same voice your accustomed to hearing for a decade and now it’s gone. I will say that Aya Hisakawa who plays Bulma now is a super accomplished seiyuu, she’s fantastic. We’ve voiced a lot of the same characters so I’m hoping I’ll get to meet her at some point! But yeah I wasn’t expecting to actually cry the first time I heard her after she passed because we never actually met! But you have this kindred relationship with pretty much anyone who has played that character. I’m pretty sure there’s a lady in Germany or in Italy that’s like ‘Yeah, I’d love to talk to Monica Rial!’ and I wish we could all get together and have like a Bulma-Party! But yeah, it really affected me more than I thought it would but I think that that’s only natural when you’re so in-tune with a character.
Now this is just my theory! It’s not in any way legit, but I did notice that Aya Hisakawa’s voice is just a little bit higher and a little clearer than Hiromi’s, Hiromi’s is a tad bit lower and fuller. And in the Broly movie, Bulma says the wish she’s going to make is to be a little younger which would, in turn, make her a little higher pitched! I wonder if they did that on purpose, because that would be a really cool way to be like “Hey I know she sounds a little bit different but here’s WHY!” I like to think they did that on purpose.
When did you first take an interest in acting?
In 6th grade, I started taking theater classes and started getting cast. I thought I was really cool, I was 12 years old I got hired by this touring company that did these PSA shows like “Who Says I Can’t Drink?” about teenage alcoholism and “Not Me” about teenage drug use. I would get taken out of school and we would travel around Texas performing these plays for high school kids! So I was like the COOLEST 12-year-old like ‘I have to leave school for a week so I can go perform for high school students~’ But I realized then this is something I really enjoyed so I just continued all the way through high school, college, and I still continue to take classes to this day. It really took some soul searching and I don’t know WHY, because now I’m like well, of course I should have been an actor, I was a ham my entire life, why wouldn’t I? And specifically voice acting I hadn’t thought of because no one ever told me like ‘Hey there’s this whole other career you can do as an actor. You can do it in your pajamas, at home, in your closet.’ I had no idea! So now I try to educate young actors and be like ‘hey you might wanna do stage, you might want to do film, but don’t forget about voice acting!’ It’s not this one thing, you’ve got a bunch of different genres in this one field of acting. And here we are!
Surprisingly, Dragon Ball continues to get more and more popular despite it being around for as long as it has. How have you and your cast mates been able to handle more popularity with a franchise that was already super popular to begin with?
*Deep male voice with Spanish accent*: “Monica, now you are going to be rich because you are the voice of the Hello Kitty!” and I was like “That’s not how this works, Dad, I don’t get a commission every time a Hello Kitty item is sold.” But when Dragon Ball started coming on televisions and he could watch it, he was like “Monica… you are in las bolas de dragon!” Well, the literal translation of that is the balls of the dragons. So he would go around telling everybody “My daughter is in The Balls of the Dragon!” and I’m like *whispers* “Daaaaad…”
But to have something my dad could be proud of and knew what it was is so exciting. Like now we can go out and someone’s wearing like the orange Goku [shirt] and he’ll be like “Aah Monica! It’s the Balls of the Dragon!” and I’m like “Hey shh on the Balls of the Dragon, let’s just call it Dragon Ball!”
But it’s been really cool, the lines are getting longer at conventions. We’ve had celebrities geek out like ‘Oh my gosh, you’re Bulma!’ and I’m like ‘Oh my gosh, you’re famous-actor-person!’ and sometimes they bring their kids. It’s been a lot of fun and anime is become more and more mainstream and I think that’s awesome.
Out of all the anime characters that you’ve voiced so far, who’s closest to your natural personality?
And the other one I would say, it’s kind of embarrassing to admit, there’s a show called Watamote and I play Tomoko who suffers from severe social anxiety to the point where she does some REALLY cringe-worthy things trying to avoid certain situations. Actually, when I was a dancer, I had crippling social anxiety. When I was on stage I was fine but like if my cousin came over and was like ‘Hey Monica!’ I’d go red, quiet, just could noooot handle it. So it was actually kinda cathartic coming full circle and voicing a character with that condition because I was like, ‘hey I know what this feels like and it SUCKS’. It was neat to look at it from a different angle and hopefully help somebody who might watch that show and go ‘oh man I know how this feels’ and try to make it light-hearted and fun so it’s not such a hardcore issue.
In the past 10 years, how have you transformed as a voice actress along with the franchise of Dragon Ball Z
Who has had the biggest impact on your career
Do you prefer doing just a season with a character or, like you did with Bulma, do you prefer growing with that character over the years?
What IS Bulma’s favorite vegetable?
Have you experienced Japan before?
But that’s on my list! It’s my next place to go but my best friend is NOT into it, she’s into other places. But I’ll go by myself! I don’t care! I wanna see it! And I have some seiyuu friends and they’re like ‘Yes! We will take you to all the beers and all the karaoke!’ Yes, I will do all the beers and the karaoke, let’s do it. So I will go eventually and I’ll probably take pictures and vlog so everyone can see me experience Japan.
How much have you enjoyed seeing My Hero Academia now running on Toonami and potentially becoming this generation’s Dragon Ball?
I think what’s great about My Hero is the underlying message of you can be whatever you want to be as long as you work hard and you’re determined. I think the creators were very smart, they’ve been very vocal that they didn’t want it to be too Japanese-centric. They wanted it to appeal to a wider audience so you won’t see as much Japanese food and stuff because they wanted it to be easily translated in any country and not be just an ‘anime’. I think sometimes people can feel alienated if they’re not familiar with anime and suddenly you’re using honorifics and you’re talking about certain foods and people who don’t understand that are like ‘alright, I’m out, they’re speaking Greek, I have no idea what’s happening.’
But I do love that it’s become as popular as it has because when it first came out, *whispers* no one was watching it. And we were nervous because it was such a good show! But I think everyone got the memo at the same time because all of a sudden it was ‘MY HERO!!’ and we were the most surprised because we were like ‘we’ve been talking about how great this show was and nobody watched it! But suddenly EVERYONE has seen it and I’m excited for it! And I love that there are a lot of families where the grandparents and parents are like Dragon ball! And the kids are like My Hero! They’re cross-pollinating! So now the parents are watching My Hero and the kids are watching Dragon Ball and you get these families that just love Dragon Ball and My Hero and it’s awesome!
What are you passionate about outside of performing
Can you give a word of support to those who are LGBTQ+A?
So first of all, I would say to them, we’re working on it. We just brought over Love Stage which is a beautiful story and it’s not even just about the two main characters being men, it’s just a beautiful love story and they just happen to be dudes. There’s so many different shows that he’s bringing over. So I would say to all my LGBTQ+A friends, I know it’s hard. I know it’s difficult. I see the pain, I see the struggle daily. But I think that this community has the opportunity to be the catalyst, the change. We’re all weirdos, and it’s awesome, it's glorious! You can look however you want, you can dress up as whatever you want, and if someone side-eyes you, it’s on them, not you. So I want to invite more people from that community and be like ‘Hey, come over to anime. We’re weirdoes, but the great kind of weirdoes, not the bad kind. And it is such a welcoming community and people have arms outstretched. So I really hope those folks will find solace in this community. Every community has their bullies but I think overall anime, and aaaah even some of the gaming, but mostly anime is very inclusive and a very friendly place to be.
By the end of the interview, it was very clear that acting is what Monica was meant to do. Most of her answers involved her recounting stories and dialogue instead of listing events. Of course, the numerous voices she used to differentiate between the people she was talking about helped convey her meaning. Even when talking about heavier subjects, she usually had a happy, hopeful tone and her affection and hopes for her fans were palpable. Seeing her consideration and love for Bulma will certainly give us a new appreciation for future episodes of Dragon Ball!