My Hero Academia has taken Western anime fans by storm thanks to FUNimation’s amazing simulcasts available on FUNimation Now and Hulu. The story takes place in a world where superpowers have become the norm and nothing is unexpected. The hero All Might is the epitome of class and someone everyone aspires to be including a young Izuku, who often replayed videos of All Might’s amazing deeds as a child. Izuku had every intention of following in his hero’s path until he discovers that he was born without any amazing ability to help him realize his goal. Though crushed, Izuku is all the more determined to make his dream come true by attending the prestigious U.A. High School, a school known for its amazing hero graduates.
The series stars some amazing voice talent including veteran voice actor Christopher Sabat starring as All Might, and rising star Justin Briner as the lead role, Izuku. Recently, Honey's Anime was able to catch up with them at Anime Expo and ask them a few questions about their trade and how the industry is evolving in terms of simulcasting. Please enjoy!
Chris, you are a man of many hats. You’ve been a producer, voice actor, and a director. What is your favorite role to play?
Actually, I seem to only have one. I saw an interview of myself downstairs and Justin asked me if that was the same hat and oddly enough I did get a replacement for that hat and it is different, but I know what you mean.
What’s weird is that of all the things I like to do, the one thing that I love to do the most is the one thing I don’t get to do as much of and that’s actually…I like to make music, sound design, scoring that’s what I…that’s a huge passion of mine. Anytime I get an opportunity to make music I just love the way things sound.
I think that’s what attracts me to this business, to begin with. Unlike Justin, I didn’t come from a kind of thespian background in this business. I had a ridiculously low voice at a young age and everyone told me I needed to be a radio announcer my whole life so eventually I just did that.
So, I guess, I really do love producing because I…I don’t necessarily love the stress of the schedule, but I do love trying to get things together and trying to assemble the best possible crew for things is really exciting to me and the opportunity to give people work is redeeming. It’s really a nice feeling.
In regards to your music, are you a singer or do you play an instrument?
I was in opera singing. I studied opera at the University of North Texas and after a year of being on a scholarship there I realized this is not what I want to do at all, so I switched my major, but I’m a piano player and I’m a programmer too. I love to…I like designing, just, sounds. I love natural sounds and sampling and things like that.
Justin, what kind of roles do you enjoy and what kind of roles do you wish to do in the future?
Gosh, so far I haven’t really encountered a role that I haven’t enjoyed. Anything that I can sort of find a piece of myself in I find that I am able to at least wrap my head around. Probably, if there were any deficiency in my roles so far it would be villains. I would love to play a bad guy sometime. I’ve skirted the edge. I’ve been an anti-hero, but I’ve never been a full-fledged villain.
I am awful by the way, at playing hero characters. It’s ironic that I’m playing All Might, but he’s a different sort of guy, but I could never voice someone like Goku or Luffy or anyone. It has to be, like, overwhelmingly enthusiastic about stuff, even though All Might, again, is a different situation because he at least has levels and he’s putting it on. It’s not a sincere thing, so I have great respect for the kind of heroic male voices that come through FUNimation.
If you could choose another character within My Hero Academia, which role would you choose?
I wouldn’t want another character! I’m so happy with the character I have. What’s the name of the main instructor who wants to kick everyone out of class on the first day?
The one with the giant eyes! Aizawa!
Yeah, I think I could handle his character. When I was looking at the audition signs I thought he might be someone I could get.
Now before you get into a role, do you study the Japanese voice actor or do you go into the role cold turkey and kind of bring your own personality to it?
I’m still sort of shaping my method about that. Some shows I, especially if it’s a DVD show and it’s all out when we start recording it, I’ve gone back and forth between checking out the whole show, part of the show, don’t watch it at all and see what happens. For the broadcast dubs, though, I do try to catch the Japanese as they come out.
I definitely did my research when this show began production essentially. Because you’re going week-to-week and the pace is so breakneck I feel like it’s important to have some sort of idea where things are headed. Whether that’s checking out a Wikipedia article or reading the entire manga. I try to. As of now, I’m sort of landing on do(ing) as much research as possible.
In the past when FUNimation had all the episodes in one giant batch and they call you in and a lot of the times roll you in and you have a three or four hour session and they get you through five, six, seven episodes and it kind of sucks even though it’s nice because you have the whole story.
It sucks because it’s…you don’t feel like you’re part of the story in an episodic sense and so before every, on all the broadcast dub shows I’m actually allowed to go, or on the way to the session or in the car or right in the parking lot before I walk in I’m able to at least once listen to the episode I’m about to work on and that’s a really awesome luxury to have that because then the director doesn’t have to explain as much of what’s happening in the story. You really just get to focus on how to, you know, make your character sound as awesome as you can.
In terms of quality, have simulcasts reduced the quality of work because you have to meet such a strict deadline?
It has reduced the quality of life for directors because they, for all of us that have had to work on these, we understand the stress that we’ve got to get this actor in by a certain time and, you know, we’ve got to cast this person or the person you really wanted to use isn’t available, but I feel like FUNimation has a really good company.
You know, if we’re all a company of actors, everyone is really good at being pretty instinctually right on. Even if you don’t know the context of where you’re character’s going, after you’ve worked on these shows long enough, even though I don’t speak Japanese, I feel like I can understand Japanese sentiment.
Even in cases where there are times when I know for a fact that there are some sounds that are loud when in Japanese culture, that are not meant to be, some sounds…it’s hard to explain this. Maybe you know what I’m talking about, but even though you don’t speak the language you understand how to interpret Japanese to get the read, that correct feeling. You know? Does that make sense?
Have you ever had to redub something between the DVD release and the simulcast?
Yeah, there have definitely been instances in between just getting the final high-quality video DVDs where the mouth movement is slightly off, so we have to rewrite this line or now that you have a chance to sit back, this line doesn’t really work, let’s try something else. It’s been fairly few and far between for what I’ve worked on, but it definitely does happen.
Chris, you’ve done video game work as well. Is that any different from the work you do on anime?
It’s a lot different. It’s a completely different thing. It’s still voice work and at the end of the day it’s all still acting, but Justin and I were discussing this earlier about how within a game session it’s all theater of the mind. It’s all your director. If you have a good director that explains stuff to you, your sessions will be better, but in a video game session a lot of cases you’re just rolling down everything with no context.
Sometimes they don’t even have time. They just say we’ve got to get all these done. So I remember working on a game called Deus Ex: Invisible War and they were in such a rush to get my character’s lines finished that my session was basically, “I’d like the rocket launcher, but I don’t have enough money.” “I like the pistol, but I don’t have enough money.” “I like the crossbow, but I don’t have enough money.” “I’ll take the rocket launcher.” “I’ll take the crossbow.” You roll them out so quickly that sometimes you don’t even know.
There have been times where I have gone back and watched things that have happened in the game and thought, “Gosh if I had known that’s the distance between the characters! If had known that my character isn’t even looking at the other character I would have definitely read that differently.
So anime is kind of luxurious because you get to have headphones on. You get to hear the music, the sound effects, and you get to preview it in Japanese. Everything. You get to insert yourself into that world whereas video games you’re kind of at the mercy of how people interpret your lines.
Justin, do you have any intention of doing any video game work?
I would love to. I’m into all kinds of work. I’ve, at this point only, been able to get involved in indie games, Dust: An Elysian Tail comes to mind, but I’d love to!
I just heard his stoner voice earlier. He wasn’t high by the way! We were both doing our stoner impressions because I misread a sign downstairs and thought it said “Stoner Academy” or something, but his stoner voice is really good. We’re gonna have to find a use for that.
Do you guys have any voice actors that you personally idolize or that you aspire to be?
You don’t have to say it, Justin. I know.
I mean, I do in the way I’ve been familiar with his work for a long time. There’s that.
Other voice actors I look up to…I guess cartoons that I watched as a kid. You know, Tom Kenney’s Spongebob I think is just crazy mad. Rob Paulsen doing his Yakko in Animaniacs is just out of control. I tend to look for people who share ranges similar to mine and that are doing incredible things with their voice and think, “Well, maybe I could do that if I really tried.”
And also Chris Sabat.
I knew this was kind of why you were just beating around the bush a bit. I get it.
Well, I didn’t want to embarrass you.
Tom Kenny is a ridiculously nice human being too. He already mentioned a lot of people that I really love in this business. I was really lucky as a director for all these years. I really feel like part of the reason I was ok is when I first started working in anime or even in voice over work or voice acting work, I saw other actors and basically, like a homunculus, I absorbed a lot of their super powers. Just getting to work with people like Colleen Clinkenbeard, Luci Christian, Troy Baker, Travis Willingham, and Laura Bailey you were just taught along with all these other great talents. Hearing what they do really helped me.
Have you ever thought of branching outside of anime or video games into something like Disney movies? How hard is it to land a role like that?
Gosh, for something like that, a high-profile project, it comes down to who you know and honestly it comes down to having a good agent who is looking out for you too. These big projects are something I would be thrilled to work on. I just haven’t found myself at that part of my career that I thought about making a huge jump like that. I did a lot of stage growing up and that was sort of where I found my footing for all this acting business and I have since been very blessed to be able to do so much anime work that I really do enjoy doing. I mean, I would love to do anything and everything that I can get my hands on, but I would see that on the horizon.
We have a handicap in that we are residents of Dallas and there just aren’t any Disney shows being recorded in Dallas, so the first step would have to be working with a director who would accommodate someone that would have to fly in every week and it just doesn’t work. You have to fool people into thinking you’re local before something like that. But, yeah, I’ve always been interested in it. I’ve worked on some indie cartoons and things like that before and there’s something really marvelous about people animating something around your voice.
Voice work can be quite taxing on a person’s vocal chords, are there any routines you do in order to prevent that from happening?
Yeah, definitely! I make sure before a session I know that’s going to be especially taxing like My Hero Academia, I warm up. I usually like to sing scales in my car or something. A lot of years and years have taught me vocal technique and how to scream without really ripping my voice apart. Stuff like that. Just little things I’ve picked up and I try to keep my voice ready to go.
To me it’s just trying to get a good night’s sleep the night before, trying to eat well, and you kind of have to take care of your body, though it doesn’t appear as if I do. I just can’t go out late. I can’t drink a lot the night before.
Everyone here at Honey's Anime would like to give our heartfelt thanks to both voice actors and FUNimation for allowing us to have such an amazing opportunity to interview such amazing talent! Be sure to catch Christopher Sabat and Justin Briner in My Hero Academia, now streaming on Hulu and FUNimation Now. You should be watching.