Otaku USA Magazine
Youmacon 2011: The Voices Behind Anime

It must be an interesting life, to be a voice actor. You can walk around with overall anonymity, yet you have fans all over who adore you and go ga-ga when you launch into the voices of your characters.

While attending Detroit’s Youmacon, I got to speak with three very talented guests. Topics of our conversations included potato chips, the Z Fighters’ bathroom habits, and how to make people at Anime Boston hate you (but in a good way). The first person I talked to was Brad Swaile, best-known for voicing Light in Death Note.

“When I started working on Death Note—it was already a big series in Japan, obviously—I knew it was going to be huge over here in North America as well,” Swaile said. “I didn’t realize so much when I was recording it that there were two things I was going to have to do for the rest of my life because of it.  One is the maniacal laughter and the other one is eating potato chips.”

Thankfully, he likes potato chips. “If I was allergic to potato chips, I’d be in big trouble,” he joked.

I asked about the maniacal laughter, because I figured that would probably be difficult to break into. “It’s embarrassing!” he admitted. “Here’s the thing: we’re recording Death Note and it’s the last episode. I’m really excited to do the laugh because the laugh is very important. But when we’re recording, it’s just me alone in a booth, so I can go nuts and it’s almost therapeutic. Then I come to conventions and people want the laugh—which is totally understandable. But that’s when all the cameras come out! People are watching me do the laugh and I go real shy. But I’ll do it. It is fun… until you see it plastered all over YouTube. But I guess that’s the tradeoff. If I get all the perks of going to a convention, I have to be willing to embarrass myself.”

The next person I met up with was Sonny Strait, who is best known as Krillin in Dragon Ball Z. But he also has an impressive résumé in the comics world.

“I’ve worked for DC Comics and TOKYOPOP,” he said. “My book, We Shadows, was nominated for Graphic Novel of the Year by the American Library Association. I’ve also been published in the series Elf Quest. But I’m also an anime voice actor. I’ve been doing that for twelve years. I’m known primarily for Krillin in Dragon Ball Z, but I’m also in Fullmetal Alchemist and I’m the original Toonami TOM for Cartoon Network.”

The drawing came before the voice acting. “If somebody’s doing art, I want to be a part of it,” Strait said. “I majored in Theatre in college. While I was majoring in Theatre, I ended up getting my first comic book story published, so I dropped out of school and starting drawing comics for ten years. Then I got into acting and theatre. FUNimation came to Dallas and had open auditions for Dragon Ball Z and then I got on that.”

I had to ask: Did he watch Dragon Ball Z Abridged? Yes, he did. What did he think of the Krillin Owned count, then?

“I thought that was the most brilliant thing I’ve ever seen,” he said. “If we as the anime voice actors were allowed to do this, it would be worse. If I was going to write Abridged, I would do an episode where you saw nothing but bathroom stalls and you see all the Z Fighters’s legs underneath and you hear “GAAHHH!” the whole time. “GAAHHH!” And then, finally, at the end of the episode, you hear flushing. That would be episode one.”

The third person I talked to was Tom Wayland. Besides acting work, his résumé includes directing, producing and writing. I think if there’s work to be done in the anime field, he’s probably done it.

“I’m real busy, which is good,” he said. “Mainly, I direct Pokémon. I’m the longest tenured director in the history of that show. I’m in my fifth season now. So I’m doing that all the time and I’ve been in all the Yu-Gi-Ohs and hopefully I’ll be in the new Yu-Gi-Oh, too.”

Still, anime work has been slowing down in New York, where he works. “I was in Tai Chi Chasers, which is currently airing on Saturday mornings,” he said. “I play a character named Finn, who’s one of the heroes. He’s sort of a quiet, sullen fellow. But it’s kind of fun because one of my sons is named Finn. He digs the fact I play a guy with his name. I’m in the most recent dub of Ikki Tousen.”

He also narrates audio books, works on animation projects that aren’t anime, does voice work for TV and “occasionally show[s] up on camera.”

He attends maybe five conventions a year and has a fondness for Anime Boston… and messing with the attendees. “I’m the villain there,” he said. “I’m from New York and I’ll show up in a Yankee uniform just to piss everybody off. Now at opening ceremonies they make videos directed just at me. My children and I will make videos back.”