J!-ENT SPOTLIGHT: Kappei Yamaguchi
Michelle Tymon and Ian James Ferguson
Most, if not all anime fans have seen some kind of work that Kappei Yamaguchi has been in. He is definitely one of the most famous seiyuu (a term for Japanese voice actors) of the last two decades, if not of all time.
Some of his major roles include, but are not limited to: Ranma Saotome (Ranma ½), Inuyasha (Inuyasha), L (Death Note), Usopp (One Piece), Yattaro (Kyatto Ninden Teyandee), Shinichi Kudo (Meitantei Conan), Tombo (Majo no Takkyubin), and Raimon “Monta” Taro (Eyeshield 21). Sakura Con 2009 attendees were extremely lucky to have an opportunity meet and see this seiyuu legend.
Kappei Yamaguchi (birth name: Yamaguchi Mitsuo) was born on May 23rd 1965 in Fukuoka, Japan. People probably know him very well for all the voice acting he’s done, but he’s also a very accomplished stage actor. His major debut role in voice acting happens to be Ranma Saotome from “Ranma ½” , in which he costarred with Noriko Hidaka who starred as Akane Tendo and who he would go on and collaborate with again many times, including in “Inuyasha”, where he played Inuyasha and she played Kikyou.
Noriko Hidaka is his senpai in the seiyuu world, who also helped him get his start in the seiyuu business and they are close friends. Other close friends of his in the seiyuu world include Tomokazu Seki and Wataru Takagi , who he has formed a stage troupe with.
His roles include many different kinds of roles, showing how versatile he is with his skills. He has played tough, leading male roles like Ranma and Inuyasha, playful characters like Jin (Yu Yu Hakusho), comical characters like Usopp (One Piece), a combination of all of those characteristics: Kabuki Danjuro (Tengai Makyou Series), detective characters like L (Deathnote), and Shinichi Kudou (Detective Conan) and for some reason, he has played a lot of roles that either look or act like monkeys: Taro “Monta” Raimon (Eyeshield 21), and Hikozaru/Chimchar (Pokemon).
Other than roles in anime and games, Yamaguchi Kappei has done work in doing Japanese dubs for American shows like Bugs Bunny from “Looney Tunes”, Kyle from “South Park”, and most recently Goku from “Dragonball Evolution”. Yamaguchi enjoyes preschool and kindergarten education and does voice over for kids shows like “Okaasan to Issho” (With Mother).
At Sakura Con 2009, fans had a chance to see him at a Q&A and autograph signing and an impressive amount of people showed up for each event. The line for his autograph signing was so long that they had to make a separate session just so all of the fans who showed up could get his autograph.
For every fan he signed an autograph for, he never forgot to smile and say thank you to each one. His Q&A session at Sakura Con was a huge success. It was pretty much a packed house and some fans were waiting outside the room for hours just for a chance to possibly ask him questions.
He was very excited and impressed with the turnout of people there. He answered tons of questions and even took some random requests such as singing the Sogeking song from “One Piece” and doing various other requests as certain characters he’s played.
I personally remember seeing Yamaguchi on a kids TV show on NHK when I was very young and it was before I realized he was Ranma, so I had been following his voice acting career since he started out. He’s probably a very big reason I ended up liking seiyuus. He has a very distinct voice but he’s able to pull off so many different roles. Even though he’s voiced some of my favorite characters like Ranma, Usopp, Inuyasha and even Jin from “Yu Yu Hakusho”, my absolute favorite role he played was a character named Kabuki Danjuro from the “Tengai Makyou” video game series.
There is no one else in my mind that could have played that character. Kappei Yamaguchi is Kabuki Danjuro, just like I believe that can be said about any of his characters. Sadly, I don’t think that the “Tengai Makyou” series was ever popular in the US. It was an extremely popular game series in Japan and most of the games came out on the PC Engine (Turbo Grafix in the US). The character Kabuki Danjuro starred in “Tengai Makyou II: Manji Maru” and “Tengai Makyou: Fuun Kabukiden”.
Kabuki is a very loud, confident, egotistical womanizer type of character… who deep down inside is a good person (usually). He is one of the descendants of the Hi no Ichizoku, who are the heroes in this video game series. Other than being quite strong, this character is quite different from Ranma and once again quite different from Inuyasha, showing off his versitality.
Currently, he is still doing a lot of work as a seiyuu with his long running regular roles like Usopp from “One Piece” and a handful of new roles each year. He currently also has his own production company named Goku. He is married and has one child, and another talent of his includes playing the guitar.
With an extensive resume for voice work and stage acting, Kappei’s career doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Fans from Sakura Con, as well as all over America and the rest of the world are looking forward to seeing what Kappei Yamaguchi will be doing next.
Yamaguchi Kappei Links:
Saru no Oukoku (his personal blog): http://kappei59.exblog.jp/
Gekidan 21st Century Fox: http://www.21fox.co.jp/index2.htm
Production Company Goku: http://www.go-coo.com/
His Official Profile: http://www.go-coo.com/profile/kappei.html
Sannin no Kai (Stage Troupe with Takagi Wataru and Seki Tomokazu): http://www.sannin.net/
Yamaguchi Kappei Press Conference at Sakura-Con in Seattle, Washington
1. J!-ENT: Out of your extensive list of roles, if you could pick three of your all-time favorite roles, which would they be?
Kappei: Let’s see… it’s hard to pick only three. I really have a love for all of the characters I have played. So speaking more in the term of this is the role that I started my career as a voice actor, and the reason I’m here today, I’d have to say my debut role as Saotome Ranma from “Ranma ½”. Also currently the role I am working hard on and putting my heart into is Usopp from “One Piece”. I believe that this role is very important as well. And lastly, right now I am personally very interested in the education of young children so I want to do something for them. So I have been working on a Japanese show called “Okaasan to Issho” (With Mother). The character I voice on that show is very dear to me and is something I consider as my life’s work.
2. Random: How did you get into doing voices for video games?
Kappei: Doing voices for video games is still a pretty new genre for us voice actors and in the last ten years or so, the demand for this genre has grown tremendously and has become very important. The way we record the voices for video games is different from anime because in anime, we all get together and record together but in video games, we all record separately one at a time. It’s also difficult because we don’t really know for sure where our lines will appear in the game necessarily because things can change depending on how the player is playing the game. So trying to plan out how the lines should sound can be difficult.
3. What is your favorite past time or hobby?
Kappei: Right now, I’d have to say the guitar. Whenever I have free time, I’m playing the guitar. Even on this trip, I brought a smaller guitar with me and I am playing it in my hotel room. …I guess that’s not really a hobby. I think it’s more of a toy to me…? An interest…? Oh, and of course I do like toys too, but toys aren’t really hobbies…
4. J!-ENT: You’ve done a lot of characters but have you ever heard the American dub of your character and if so, how did you feel hearing and seeing them?
Kappei: Yes, I have. I’ve seen the American versions, the Italian versions, and various other versions of various roles and it’s a very strange feeling. But I think in each different version, they capture special characteristics and when I think about how people in those countries are enjoying those creations, it makes me happy. So in the opposite scenario where I am playing Bugs Bunny from “Looney Tunes” and Kyle from “South Park”, if the creators of those characters heard my versions of those characters I feel that they would feel the same way.
5. Who was your inspiration to become a voice actor or what inspires you while you are voice acting?
Kappei: As a voice actor, the person I admire the most is Nozawa Masako-san, who does the voice for Son Goku in the “Dragon Ball” series. She’s a woman, but I respect her very much as an actor and as a person. As a child, I had watched a lot of anime and didn’t realize at the time that Nozawa-san was doing the voices of many of the characters. It wasn’t until later that I realized that she did the voices of most of the characters I liked. So even without realizing it, I think she gradually influenced me over the years to become a voice actor. I haven’t talked about this much in the past though. But over the years, I think I have been influenced by many of my senpai voice actors.
6. J!-ENT: Is this your first time to Seattle and if so, is there anything specifically that you’d like to do or anything that interests you about Seattle?
Kappei: I’m definitely going to talk now. (laughs) This is my first time in Seattle and it has always been a city I wanted to visit. Because of Ichiro, Seattle has become quite famous and is getting a lot of attention in Japan. But for me, of course I like Ichiro as well, but for me there is something else that I was more excited about coming to Seattle. I really love Jimi Hendrix and I always wanted to come to Seattle at least once in my life. It’s also a very beautiful city, the environment is great and it’s right by the water so I would love to live here, actually. Earlier today, I was able to go to Jimi Hendrix’s grave and I got to go to the museum so I had a lot of fun. It was a very exciting event for me. Also apparently tonight they are taking me to the oyster bar so I’m excited about that too because the food here is so great.
7. Random: You’ve done adult games in the past but I was wondering why you used your usual name instead of using a different name?
Kappei: There really isn’t a specific reason or policy but as for me, because it is a character from an adult anime or game, I don’t want to discriminate against them. Even though the character might be from an adult genre, it is a character that I was responsible for and is in a way like my child. So for any role I do, big or small and despite any genre it may be from, I don’t want to treat any of those characters differently. So actually, I guess that might be some kind of a policy for me.
8. J!-ENT: You’ve done many shows with Hidaka Noriko, who’s also a very famous seiyuu and I was wondering if you two were good friends outside of work and also if there were any other seiyuu you were friends with.
Kappei: We are indeed very close. Actually, she’s been taking care of me ever since I’ve debuted so she’s like a mentor to me. She also knows a lot of the initial mistakes I made when I first debuted as well as a lot of embarrassing things that happened to me, so in a way I’m always a little weak in front of her. She’s very much like an older sister to me. I have a lot of other seiyuu that I’m close to. If I was to list them, there are so many that there wouldn’t be an end. However all of us are so busy all the time so we don’t really get to hang out and that makes me a little sad. But out of those people, two of my closest friends are Seki Tomokazu and Takagi Wataru, who I have formed a stage troupe with. We are able to talk about anything and they are very close to me.
9. Is there any role you really wanted to do but didn’t get?
Kappei: There’s actually quite a few. But in turn, I was able to get roles that I’ve wanted to do more than twice as much. The roles that I wanted to do but wasn’t able to get, I believe that people who were more appropriate for those roles got them. Also, the roles that I am doing right now and that I have done, I believe that I am the best person for those roles. So I don’t really think much about the roles I didn’t get. I try to think about it positively like the Gods are telling me that there are much more suited roles for me coming in the future and that’s why I didn’t get those other roles.
10. I noticed your character in Maji Koi(an 18+ video game…) Fukumoto Ikutaro, and I was wondering how attached you are to the whole monkey image because his character is very monkey-like?
Kappei: I love monkeys. Just like the character you just mentioned, there’s also Monta from “Eyeshield 21”… I get a lot of roles of monkey-like characters that come my way but I myself really like Son Goku from “Saiyuki” (Journey to the West) so if people have that image of me, it makes me very happy. The image character I have for myself that I’m using in Japan is also a monkey.
11. J!-ENT: What’s your impression of the convention so far and are you surprised that anime is this prevalent in the United States?
Kappei: It’s amazing, Sakura Con. Unlike Japan, I had the opportunity to freely wander here and there around the convention so I’ve been having fun myself. I can totally see that everyone is really having a lot of fun from their hearts. I think that the enthusiasm is even more than in Japan. For example with cosplaying, you can see that everyone is cosplaying those characters with their own policies and that is satisfying and everyone looks so cool. If I am invited to Sakura Con again next year, I’m really thinking about cosplaying myself so I can keep up with everyone. It’s really been a lot of fun.
Last comment from Kappei to everyone:
I thought this at my panel too, but everyone here knows so much about the characters I have played and they know so much about Japanese animation. I hope that with animation, we are able to get past the barrier of words and everyone is able to bond and have fun. What makes me really happy is that the things I’ve done in Japan… of course this is my first time in Seattle, but the fact that even in places other than Japan that I’ve never been to before, people know who I am and the work I’ve done so that’s a very surreal feeling, but it really makes me happy and it really makes me realize that I’m very lucky to be in this field of work and I’m very grateful.