Kusanagi Mizuho and Saitou Chiwa on Akatsuki no Yona (Comic Natalie)

Manga author Kusanagi Mizuho and voice actress Saitou Chiwa talk about Akatsuki no Yona in an interview conducted (by Kishino Eka) around the time the anime first aired. It’s mainly a dialogue on the mutual respect they share, and how they influence one another in their approach to the series. This includes both serious stuff and some extremely cute conversation about the hugs they’ve shared.

There’s also a neat tidbit in there from Kusanagi regarding how the anime project took a long time to materialize, to the extent that she was more relieved than excited when it was officially set. This doesn’t necessarily mean the anime was an exceptionally troubled production from the get-go, but it’s interesting taken in context with the show’s switching distributors and soliciting uber-late as a result of VAP’s leaving the production committee during the broadcast, a rare occurrence. It’s also worth noting that the show’s first opening theme was an instrumental track, uncommon in the modern age where music publishers very aggressively use anime OP/EDs as a space to market their artists.

Kusanagi also mentions a pilot film which had been in production prior to the TV anime. I personally suspect that that footage may have found its way into the TV anime, as a brief battle scene covered in the first 40 seconds of episode 1 and the last 2 minutes of episode 2.

Original Article: http://natalie.mu/comic/pp/yona

Note while reading that I opted not to translate the bottom two-thirds of page 1, as it contained only one-line character bios and some flavor text.

<Page 1>

Akatsuki no Yona, the fantasy romance serialized in Hana to Yume (Hakusensha), is being turned into a TV anime, the broadcast of which finally starts on October 7th nationwide. Receiving approval from greats of the fantasy world such as Record of the Lodoss War’s Mizuno Ryou and Berzerk’s Miura Kentarou, it’s a very robust Shoujo manga!

To commemorate the anime, we at Comic Natalie set the stage for a talk with the original creator Kusanagi Mizuho and the voice of the protagonist Yona, who stands up to confront her cruel fate, Saitou Chiwa. The cast of the anime remains the same as it was for the drama CD announced in 2012. Immediately after a recording session, we had the two talk regarding their feelings on the anime announcement.

Interview+Text/Kishino Eka

[Translator’s Note: Character bios and flavor text fill the rest of the page.]

<Page 2>

Kusanagi Mizuho (Original Creator) x Saitou Chiwa (Lead Actress) Interview

Title: The first time we met, “Can I hug you, sensei?”

Interviewer: The drama CD included in the limited edition of volume 9 was the first piece of voice acting attached to Akatsuki no Yona. According to Kusanagi-sensei’s report manga on the recording session, when Saitou-san first met you, she rushed over to you, saying, “Can I hug you, sensei? I’m really happy to be playing Yona!”

Saitou: Wow, that definitely did happen! (laughs) They sent me the manga when I was decided on for the Yona role, and I had actually read the whole series all at once and fell in love with it. These feelings of being honored to have the chance to play Yona rose up in me, and I have a definite memory of feeling that “I want to express these feelings with my whole body!” Thinking back on it now, that act of asking suddenly for a hug like that was quite rude, wasn’t it?

Kusanagi: No, no! It was a great honor. …it was a bit surprising, though. (laughs)

Saitou: (laughs) Everyone has series that really stick with them, right? For me at that time, Akatsuki no Yona was exactly that.

I: Which part of it left you so enchanted?

Saitou: Well… There are plenty of reasons, but I totally fell for Yona’s character. She’s very straightforward and does her best, and pure too. I liked her so much I even thought, “Can I even play this wonderful a part?” I’m really very happy to be playing a character I liked this much when I read the (original) series.

Kusanagi: I had expressed my hopes, but I didn’t think they’d be able to get Chiwa-san to do it, so I was really thankful when the drama CD cast was decided on. Now that it hasn’t changed and she’ll continue to play her in the anime, I’m really happy.

Title: I was relieved when the anime adaptation was set

I: Before the anime came along, there were a total of 4 drama CDs. What frame of mind were you in when the anime was set?

Kusanagi: For about a year prior they had been making a pilot episode, but it took a while for the anime to really a sure thing, so if I had to say I guess I was trying not to let my expectations get too high. About half a year passed with it in a 50-50 limbo. I felt like it was only a few days before the recording session that I actually heard that “It’s set!”

Saitou: Eh, is that true?!

Kusanagi: That’s why rather than going “Wow!” I was in more of a “Phew” mood.

Saitou: There have been a lot of cases where the cast has changed going into an anime adaptation, so I also tried not to expect too much. So when it was decided that I would continue on in the role, I was realllllly happy. A single facial expression can be depicted in just one panel of manga, but in the anime a character has to move to have that expression. In Kusanagi-sensei’s manga, the art itself has power, so it got me interested in what sort of movements characters took to get to different expressions. When I was doing the drama CD, I always tried to imagine the movements and fill the gaps myself while acting.

Title: Prior to the dubbing session, the director goes “Today this will be the center of attention!”

Kusanagi: The drama CD was the drama CD, and there was a lot of interesting ad-libbing done by the actors.

Saitou: Ah, especially Kija? (Masakazu) Morita-san is just… Very lively. (laughs)

Kusanagi: Like the line, “I’m gonna dig! Anyways, I’m gonna dig-!!” (in the drama CD included with volume 9) It was very amusing to hear. (laughs) I think those sort of in-character adlibs would be impossible if you didn’t understand the character, but I was moved by how really focused everyone was.

Saitou: Fufufu. It’s because everyone’s analyzing the original series. (laughs)

Kusanagi: Even with the anime, director Yoneda (Kazuhiro) was really being careful to make sure the characters matched the original manga, so I’m sure those who read the manga will be able to watch without worry.

Saitou: We’re very faithful to the original, after all. We’re doing it while making sure all the necessary parts of the original are properly included.

Kusanagi: That is true, isn’t it? I’m really happy about it.

Saitou: Anyways, the director has a love for the original manga that definitely isn’t half-assed. Every time before we start a dubbing session, the director and sound director will get in the both and passionately explain, “Today this will be the center of attention!” “Today is this character’s turn to show off!” That sort of thing doesn’t happen that often, and as an actress it really pumps me up.

Kusanagi: He is a very passionate person, isn’t he? I come to the dubbing sessions as much as I can, and, especially when a new character appears, I’ll give my opinion on the nuances behind particular lines of dialogue, and the fact that he’ll listen carefully to everything I have to say is something I’m thankful about.

I: Has sensei ever asked Saitou-san for a particular kind of performance?

Kusanagi: Since we were working on the drama CD, I’ve requested many things out of Chiwa-san. By now she’s even beyond my imagination, like she’s the hand that scratches the itches I normally can’t reach.

Saitou: Ahaha, I’m happy to hear that.

<Page 3>

Title: Yona is a character influenced by her environment, so “don’t act too much”

Kusanagi: You have said, “I try not to overact while playing Yona”, and I think that naturalness makes for a good Yona. Within that natural setting your emotions really overflow, and you pull so much out of that character every time that it constantly overwhelms me.

Saitou: In the drama CD, my voice dominates a significant percentage of the runtime, but in the anime they insert music and add colors to it, so there’s a lot more available information, and you want to make sure the balance is perfect when all these components are gathered together. When the character is visually shown as laughing, I want to make certain to convey the “I’m laughing!” impression, to the extent that I get the feeling I overact, so I think it’s ok to ease up and leave a lot of the heavy lifting to the art. For that reason, I always try not to act too much, but Yona is a character who I think takes shape while being influenced by her environment, so that mentality is all the more important. She’s been raised in a castle, so there’s a lot she’s unaware of, and she’s a child who grows as she comes to be more aware. During the recording sessions, I was really conscious of trying to be naturally influenced by my surroundings, and I never really doubted how the role should be played. Of course, when I was being chastised I would think and alter my take a bit. That didn’t just go for me, but Morita-san and the others as well. (laughs)

Kusanagi: Ahahaha. (laughs)

Saitou: Morita-san puts smiles on everyone’s faces all the time. “Kija is a cooler character than that!”, he’ll say! (laughs) But that lovable feel is very Kija-like. Everyone carries some element of being like their character, you see. (Tomoaki) Maeno-kun always just sits quietly, but he’s read the manga more carefully than anyone. If you whisper to him, “Wait, where are we now?” he’ll pull out the manga and show you, “Right here.” Like Hak, he’s good at supporting people. Just by being Yona in front of the mike, just by being together with everyone, I get in the right mood. That may be a strength of doing a drama CD, I suppose. We’re already complete as a team.

Kusanagi: You really do feel like a cohesive unit.

Saitou: That’s also the power of the manga at work. Even the guest actors who only appear in one episode always say, “I want to know what happens next!” Everyone who appears in Yona reads through the manga, and comes to love their character. The manga just has that much impact, I think it really sucks you in.

Kusanagi: Today’s recording session was interesting, too. What with Hak and Kija’s ad-libs…

Saitou: Those two just keep getting friendlier. Is that ok? Considering the character backgrounds, that is. (laughs)

Kusanagi: Ahaha. Well it’s just really interesting, so I think it’d be fine if you just kept putting in ad-libs. (laughs) I get a sense of having rediscovered them; “Oh, those two were like that!” Lately while writing the main story for Yona, I’ll think of how so-and-so might act out a certain scene, using my imagination on the job. Even though I know these parts won’t be adapted into anime, I’ve already gotten to the point where I can hear your voices reading off the lines in my head.

Saitou: I wanted to try asking you this, but your works are worlds that you create on your own, right? What does it feel like to see that passed on to many other people and see it become an anime? Do you see it as something totally different, or do you feel like it’s something you’ve made expanding outward…?

Kusanagi: Hmmm… I’d say yes to both. It’s usually a small world I work in at my desk at home, but having all these other people offer their opinions makes me think, “So you can also take it that way, huh?” “So you can also direct in that fashion, huh?”, and like that, I constantly keep learning things. Even when you’ve drawn it yourself, there can still be parts of a work you didn’t know about.

Saitou: Is that so? I have this personal image of the original creators as the gods of their world, but every time a new cast member comes in, Kusanagi-sensei addresses them with a “Thank you very much!”, politely lowering her head. That’s a really refreshing demeanor.

Title: Soo-won does not have a split personality

I: Since you have this opportunity, is there anything you would like to ask Saitou-san, sensei?

Kusanagi: Let’s see… Yona is the only woman among the main cast, but, if you were a man, which character would you want to play?

Saitou: Hmmm… I’d have to say Soo-won!

Kusanagi: Oooo-. Not one of the four dragons, I see.

Saitou: Soo-won is the one I least understand how to play. That’s exactly why; I’d like to try the character who I have the least definite image of, I guess.

Kusanagi: I see. You don’t understand what he’s thinking; as far as acting goes Soo-won certainly may be the most difficult. The four dragons are all basically good, but Soo-won’s standing is less well-established. But I don’t think that he’s a particularly two-faced character. It’s not that he has a split personality, but he’s a person who has internalized his beliefs, and acts in accordance with what he believes in.

Saitou: I think so too. He’s a finesse character whose facade changes with slight adjustments on the part of the actor. That’s why I’d like to give him a try.

Kusanagi: Soo-won didn’t show up in the drama CD, so he was appearing in the anime for the first time, but Hirokazu-san (Yuusuke) already had the image down pat. He played a person who was not villainous, not two-faced, and I think it came off pretty well.

Saitou: Soo-won was already really cool by the first episode of the anime.
Even though he did pretty terrible things, it was hard to despise him.

Kusanagi: Yep, he was cool. I think his was a big standout performance of the first episode. A bunch of other characters also showed up in episode 1, and all of them were carefully constructed, so it’s really all of them (that were standouts), though.

Title: An anime made by fans

Saitou: In the manga, the panels serve as a limitation and you can’t draw everything, so addressing those gaps the readers fill inside their head, and showing that “it turned out like this”, that feeling of understanding is one I think you get to taste with each episode of the anime. When adapting works into anime, there have been cases where the final product differs from fan expectations, but this adaptation feels like everyone making it is a fan, so I think it won’t turn out that way. Our feelings and love, you see, are really packed into it! …Sensei just went “Kyah-!”, though.

Kusanagi: (So embarrassed she covers her face with both hands.)

Saitou: (laughs) But I really do feel that it’s a series worth studying, all the more so after working into the anime. There are parts where it energizes me and releaves tension, and I think it might just become a work that influences the lives of people who watch it like *smack*. I think it’d be nice if they could learn lots of things as Yona grows as a character.

Kusanagi: Like Chiwa-san says, I think it’s an anime that readers of the manga will be able to really enjoy. For example, take the squirrel (Ao); the way he plays around in the anime, going “pukyuu” and moving around impulsively, is super-cute. I want them to enjoy every last drop of the experience, even the tiny details and the ad-libs. Today was the recording session for the episode covering Shin-Ah’s past, and I cried at the recording session.

Saitou: Even though I had one last line to say, I was worried about what would happen if I cried and my nose got stuffy. Come to think of it, today was a bit hectic with the start of the anime, and we forgot to hug. So I had to calm down a bit and then I was like, “Sensei, sensei, I forgot!” (laughs)

I: Is the hug a consistently established routine now?

Saitou: No no, it’s nothing like that, but I was full of emotions to the effect of, “I’m so happy this became an anime. I’ll do my absolute best!”, and I poured those emotions into a passionate hug. (laughs) As I said, I’ll do my best!

3 thoughts on “Kusanagi Mizuho and Saitou Chiwa on Akatsuki no Yona (Comic Natalie)

  1. Interesting to see some sort of official confirmation about VAP in trouble, also typical of Japanese politeness they didn’t even mention VAP by name. Considering how abysmal the numbers looked off Something’s recently released data, I am honestly more surprised this doesn’t happen more often:

    (revenue average for 2015 is a bit miss leading considering the year is far from over, average (of average) units sold is more reflective, if just as depressing: http://i.imgur.com/XPDUUOa.jpg )

    • I don’t know if what’s said here directly points to VAP, but I do think there is a lot of circumstantial evidence. There’s some ambiguity in the phrasing Kusanagi used when she mentions she “felt like” the anime was only set the day before the recording session. In this context, that session seems to be the one for episode 12 – the drama CD’s first recording was also mentioned in the interview, but that came out 2 years pre-anime and doesn’t fit the timetable well.

      The announcement happened in July 2014, about 3 months before the airdate (which was announced in September). If she’s talking about the official announcement, it could be either one of those, but the timing of the September one matches up better, given how long it typically takes (iirc 4-8 weeks) for an episode to go from recording to broadcast. So it’s definitely possible that sometime in those two months VAP left and they struggled to find funding, although it seems like then the really late solicit is harder to explain since they still theoretically knew about the situation before the broadcast.

      Opening songs being instrumental can definitely point to music-related trouble. My favorite example is when the band that did Hyougemono’s Bowl Man got arrested on drug charges mid-broadcast and they changed to an instrumental track while keeping the animation the same.

      • Brynhildr in the Darkness also had synth for the first 9 episodes. Perhaps not a coincidence, then, it was another VAP production that year.

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