[Honey’s Anime Interview] Monica Rial from Dragon Ball (MomoCon 2019)

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.

Monica Rial

Interview with Monica Rial from Dragon Ball (MomoCon 2019)


When the Japanese voice actress for Bulma passed away in 2017, how did that make you feel?

Hiromi Tsuru, and I tell you what, it’s interesting because there have been other voice actors that have passed before I recorded the role but it’s different when you’re working on a show like Dragon Ball. I’ve been working on it for over a decade now which is crazy to me! So that’s all those years of hearing Hiromi Tsuru’s voice. And I remember being really upset because I never got the chance to meet her. We spent so much time working on the same character, I really would have loved to have sat her down and been like ‘Tell me all about it! Gimme the tea! Tell me how you feel about Bulma, this is how I feel about Bulma!’ and see if we’re on the same page.

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?

Well, I was a ballerina from the time I was 3 to 12. Then I had a horrible roller skating accident. Seriously, I was a huge klutz. So I realized I needed to shift gears, I was not gonna be a professional ballerina. And yes, at 12, you know that it’s really sad. And it all worked out for the better! I was always the kid in ballet that was loud and obnoxious and silly so I kinda knew it maybe wasn’t for me but I had invested so much time into it I was like ‘I’m gonna do it!’ So when that accident happened, I switched gears and at 12, that’s not what you’re usually thinking about, ‘what’s gonna be my whole life’s career?’ So I thought about what I enjoyed about dancing. I loved music, I loved movement, I love performing for people, I love bringing music to life, telling a story. So, how can I take those things and move into a new genre of entertainment? So I started thinking about theater, I had enjoyed school plays so I should try that.

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?

It’s insane. Like 5-10 years ago, when you said Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, Goku, Vegeta, there would be a handful of people like ‘oh yeah, I’ve seen an episode or two.’ But now when if you say Goku, Dragon Ball, Vegeta people are like ‘Oh yeah! I know, I know! Kakarot!’ Even my dad! For the longest time, he had no idea what I did. When I got cast as Hello Kitty in Animation Theater—I should say, my dad’s from Spain, that’s why I do this voice:

*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?

Ooooh that’s a hard one, are there any? Actually, you know there is! There’s a show not a whole lot of people have watched, and maybe this will help that! It’s called Mikagura School Suite, I play Eruna Ichinomiya. That’s a really hard name to say. Sonny Straight, who also voices Krillin, was the director and called me and said “Hey how’s your season looking? Do you have a lot of work” and I said “I could take on more work, whatcha got?” And he said “I have a show that is staring you… the character is you. Would you be willing to do it?” and I said “Yeah, totally, this is fun! Let’s see what you think of me!” And I got in there and I was like “Oh she’s insane! She’s me!” Like she’s just crazy, she’ll do whatever, make silly noises, stand up in front of the classroom and make a fool of herself, and I’m like, ‘that’s 100% me!’ And recording was so fun, he just gave me carte blanche, he’s like “Do whatever you want, do what Monica would do.” She was a BLAST.

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

Ooh, how have I transformed along with Bulma? It’s been really exciting because in Super, Bulma has had so much more to do, she’s really inserted herself into everything. She’s like ‘you guys aren’t leaving me on Namek again, I’m not getting stuck with the kids, I wanna be in the action.’ So it’s been cool to watch her be more aggressive and a part of everything. Also, she’s taken on this kind of maternal aspect. She’s always had this with the kids and with Vegeta but now with everybody, she’s like ‘hey, are you ok?’ She’s the one that’s wearing the pants whether Vegeta likes it or not. And I love that everybody is terrified of her! I LOVE that just because that was not the case before. And I think her empowerment over the course of Super has kind of empowered me. If you see me with those guys now I’m like ‘Ok Sonny, you go do this, Sean, you go over there, Chris, just sit there and look pretty.’ I’ve kind of taken on her vibe. And I’ve gotten more confident and a lot stronger. I think about her choices and I think I could make those choices. I may not have the money she has or the intelligence to create that she has but she’s such a strong, powerful woman and I think especially right now at this time, that’s what we need. We need girls to see these strong, powerful women that even these giant saiyans are afraid of so the little girls can aspire to be like Bulma and be empowered. And Bulma is empowered! Especially in the Broly movie when she’s like ‘hey, you’re not leaving me, I’m going TOO.’ And then she even took them shopping! How nice of her.


Who has had the biggest impact on your career

Oh gosh, there’s so many. I would say first of all, Matt Greenfield. He’s a director at ADV that I worked with very closely. We worked on so many shows together. He was the first person to cast me. A show called Martian Successor Nadeshiko WAY back in the day, he brought me in on WALA, which is with all actors, basically, you’re just background noise while the main characters are talking. It was kind of a test because he was throwing things at me to see if I could do it like “Now, you’re going to improv for three minutes, its all about you want these aliens to go home, they’re called the Jovians, now go! Ok now do the same thing but now you’re an old British lady. Ok now you’re a little boy!” And I was like ‘Oh, this is fun! It’s like constant improv.’ And he taught me along the way. Any time I do military stuff, like I did gen:LOCK recently, that’s an homage to Matt Greenfield because I’ve never been in the military. I’ve watched films, but I don’t know how to bark at people like that but he got that out of me. He pretty much taught me how to anime voice-act and I’m sad I don’t get to work with him anymore because he was such a huge part of what I’ve become.

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?

I like the long lasting characters because you get so attached! Right now, if you were to ask me ‘what’s Bulma’s favorite vegetable?’ I have those answers because I’ve spent so much time with her thinking about her and being in the brain-space of Bulma. Whereas some of the other characters I’ve only spent 12 episodes on, I won’t have as much information on them because I haven’t had as much time to develop the character so I love the long-running ones. Especially in the days of simul-dubs because you’re only coming in for like 10 minutes a week. So it’s hard to be invested with them.


What IS Bulma’s favorite vegetable?

Brussel sprouts! Because I think she would like them because they look like tiny little cabbages! She likes cute stuff, but at the same time, they’re very nutritious. They also taste like bacon if you cook them the right way, she’s a meat girl.


Have you experienced Japan before?

No! I have never been. I feel like I have seen the entire country of Japan animated. I could probably find my way around, I’ve seen it animated so many times. Like I know what Tokyo Tower looks like, I know certain intersections, parks, shrines! But I’ve never seen them in real life before. It’s not because I haven’t had the desire to, I definitely have. But I have a lot of family in Spain, and if you have the money to travel, guess where you get to go, you get to go see the family! Which is great and I love them! Lo siento, familia [I’m sorry, family] But at the same time, you wanna go on vacation. So if you got a couple thousand in your pocket, you want to go to Japan but you gotta go see Grandma so that’s a little hard.

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?

It’s crazy! I had to run out and get more Tsuyu prints this morning because I was almost out THURSDAY! I’m like holy moly! And Bulma’s doing pretty well too, but you never know. Bulma and Tsuyu are so close constantly, which is weird because Bulma’s been around for 20 years, Tsuyu’s been around 4? But I will say I think the storytelling is very similar to Dragon Ball in the sense that you get attached to those characters. I love those character-driven shows. Like they could go to the grocery store and you would be totally enthralled because they’re kooky, they’re weird, it’s crazy!

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

So many things!! I’m a huge animal lover. I’m big right now in women’s rights and standing up for women because I feel like our society isn’t always doing a good job. Like look, just because you have a vagina doesn’t mean you should be treated as less than a person. And especially in the anime community, I hear this a lot from guys, they use terms like ‘femi-nazi’. I don’t think people understand, feminism is wanting to be equal, equal playing field. It’s not ‘I want to be better than them!’ It’s ‘I want to have the same opportunities’, ‘I want to have the same rights’, ‘I wanna be able to do whatever I want to do to my body’ without someone saying ‘you can’t do that’! And not to get political, but I want women to have the same rights as anyone else has and same thing for any minority group. I’m very big on talking about people of color, I’m a huge trans ally. Any time I meet someone who’s trans and going through a transition I give them my number and tell them to text me when they’re doing a name change or anything like that because those are huge moments they may not be able to share with their families and to me, that’s heartbreaking that a family would turn someone away because they’re trying to be who they really are. Same thing with homosexuality, I’m a huge ally so there’s a lot of stuff I’m really passionate about so I feel like one day I might be that anime voice actress turned politician. *laughs* And then people will be like ‘you were in this hentai!’ and I’ll be like whatever! VOTE FOR ME!


Can you give a word of support to those who are LGBTQ+A?

Yes! And not to plug anime, but David Wald is a fantastic voice actor but he’s also a director and he went to Sentai Film Works and said “I have a mission…” He is a gay man and he said “Look, you guys are missing a key market here. There are a lot of LGBTQ who want to see anime that relates to them. There’s a whole market over there that has not been brought over because everyone’s a little too scared to touch it. I tell you what, if you bring it over here, I will make it work. I will get out there, I will put the word out, I will do whatever I have to do to make it happen.”

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.

Final Thoughts

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!

Monica-Rial-Wallpaper-2 [Honey’s Anime Interview] Monica Rial from Dragon Ball (MomoCon 2019)


Author: May

Hey friends! I reside in Georgia and use my degree in Japanese primarily to (barely) read doujinshi that hasn’t been translated. Beyond deciding who is best girl in whatever I happen to be watching, I really enjoy ballroom dancing, reading, crying over dating sims, karaoke, and being surrounded by beautiful things~ (You know, scenery, décor, boys, stuff like that). I also love talking about passions with others!

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