Chicago Shimpo
2019 Anime Central: Interviews with Special Guests and Cosplayers

• Japanese anime and pop culture enthusiasts gathered in Rosemont for Anime Central, the “largest anime, manga and Japanese pop culture convention in the Midwest,” held at the Donald Stevens Convention Center and Hyatt Regency O’Hare from May 17 to 19.
• The event, held in the Chicago area since 1997, has grown considerably over the years. The number of cosplay participants (1,203 in 1998) swelled to 32,653 in 2018, while the total number of gate attendance reached 91,609 that year.

• The convention is designed to provide anime fans with a chance to meet artists, creators and character players in person, as well as to enjoy cosplay and mingle with fellow fans. This year, it featured over 50 groups and individuals as special guests, such as anime voice actors, character designers, anime studio members, anime song (“ani-son”) singers and writers. At least 25 of them were from Japan (including anime TV studio Cinema Citrus and VR novel/manga production Tokyo Chronos), actively engaging in guest panels, signings, Q&A sessions and concerts.

• The Chicago-based Japanese Culture Center offered martial arts demonstrations and traditional culture exhibits, while the Consulate-General of Japan in Chicago presented Japanese armor try-ons, Tsukasa Taiko drum performance, and classical dance performance by Shubukai.

Interview with Jerry Jewell, Voice Actor

• Jerry Jewell is a voice over actor known for his performances as key characters from hit anime series, such as Kyo Sohma in “Fruits Basket” and Jimmy Kudo in “Case Closed” (or “Detective Conan”). He is also an ADR (Automated Dialog Replacement) director for Funimation Productions, which specializes in dubbing and distribution of foreign-made animations in the U.S. As such, 42-year-old Jewell plays a critical role for Japanese anime distribution in the U.S. market.

Jerry Jewell

Q: What made you choose the career as a voice actor?

• Jewell: I came from a family of musicians, so I was interested in entertainment of all different kinds. I decided to become an entertainer from a very young age, and when at school, I took all of the speech and drama classes.
• I auditioned with Funimation in Texas about 20 years ago, and I’ve been in this business since then.

Q: Tell me how you got the part of Kyo Sohma in Fruits Basket.

Jewell: I auditioned for it in 2001. I saw it [the original animation] and thought it was a pretty good show. Back then nobody knew how popular it was going to be until it was released [in the U.S.].
• I was really surprised when they announced the remaking of the entire story in Japan [as a new anime TV series adaptation] with a whole new cast and staff, which premiered in April this year.
• I assumed they would find new people for the English voice over too. Then they asked all of the original people who dubbed it in the past to come back and play those parts again.
• It was surprising. I was worried that I might sound too old for the teenager part. But I love the new animation – much better than the old version – and I love the Kyo character. So I’m very excited that they are continuing this story. I really look forward to it.

Q: Do you feel any perception differences in terms of language between English and Japanese?

Jewell: Yes, very. For example, there will be jokes [in Japanese] that they don’t translate into English, so we have to figure out what we can say that makes sense as a joke.
• I’m learning play on words, rhyming and puns, but we are not Japanese and there’s not a whole lot we can do [about the difference]. So we have to find creative ways to get around it.

Q: What kind of connections do you have with Japan?

Jewell: [Aside from the obvious connections with Japanese anime companies,] we occasionally get to correspond with some of our Japanese counterparts, asking questions to each other about the show and characters. It helps a lot because we get another perspective of someone who is playing the same character but with different information.
• Half of the time I’m dubbing, I’m listening to what they are saying [in Japanese], listening for emotions in the voice of the actor. When they use a mellow voice, I try to do the same thing. Relying a lot on my Japanese counterpart, I can do well by trying to get as close as I can to what he is doing.

Q: How difficult is it to lip-sync with the anime character on the screen?

Jewell: We try very hard to match the voice over [to the mouth movement]. Our segment starts when the mouth opens and ends when the mouth closes, and it’s very difficult. Though there’s software today that can stretch and shrink things a little bit to match it better.

Q: You also work as an ADR director.

Jewell: I’m currently working on two seasons of the anime series called Million Arthur. Every director of Funimation directs two shows on an ongoing basis, and we release 18 shows per 12-week season. It’s a pretty fast pace.
• Basically, we get a translation from the translation department in a day or two after a new anime comes in from Japan. Then it’s sent to the writers, who’d take 2-3 days to create a script. Then we get a week to record and release it. So, the entire time span is two weeks, but for a director who directs two shows, it’s releasing one show every week.

Q: Is translation done by American staff?

Jewell: Yes. We have four to five translators. They have studied Japanese and many of them have visited or lived in Japan. But it’s their passion [that makes them do it]. They love Japanese culture and language, so it’s a perfect job for them.

Q: And you are a very busy man.

Jewell: That’s why it’s a kind of relief to come to an event like this. It’s nice to get away – I enjoy meeting with my fans.
• Of course we have other directors take over at work while I’m away so that we can keep going.

Q: Thank you very much.

Interview with Ani-Son Singers

• Japanese anime has multiple theme songs, and songwriter and singer of such songs are now established occupations.
• At the convention, guest ani-son singers/songwriters ZAQ, True and Sayaka Sasaki appeared at a joint press conference and talked about the process of songwriting and their careers.

From left: Sayaka Sasaki, True, and ZAQ

Interview with Asaka

Asaka was another guest ani-son singer. The Japanese-born 19-year-old has spent five years in Michigan from the age of three.


Q: Were you always an anime fan?

Asaka: I began watching the anime called Suzumiya Haruhi’s Yu-utsu (”The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya”) when I returned to Japan from Michigan. It was a shock to me.
• I realized that Japanese anime has character songs, and they are being introduced to America and getting popular. I was in the fifth grade, and I became hooked then.

Q: Did that make you decide to become an ani-son singer?

Asaka: When I heard that there’s such an occupation as ani-son singer, I decided to be one. I wanted to be an interpreter before that.
• I had this belief that my English was excellent, because I had lived in America. Then my confidence was crushed on my first day at the international school, seeing that a lot of classmates had the Grade 1 certificate of English test, perfect score in TOEFL, and so on.
• I had to find some other dream to pursue. Then I found out about ani-son singer.

Q: Then someone saw that you have a talent in singing?

Asaka: My junior high teacher, who heard me sing in a music class, said I had a talent and should pursue a career in singing. That teacher passed away a year later, but I remembered what he said. So I started a singing lesson when I was 15.
• I made a debut within two years.

Q: That’s pretty quick.

Asaka: Things went smoothly, fortunately.

Q: Did you compete in NHK’s ani-son singing contest?

Asaka: My dad found out about it.
• I hadn’t debuted yet, but I entered because the ani-son singer May’n, my idol, was among the guest judges. I was one of the finalists, and I was such a nervous wreck that my mind went blank, almost forgetting my name and the song I was supposed to sing.
• But thinking back now, it was a good learning experience for me. It helps me today in my work as a professional.

Q: How was your debut experience?

Asaka: I couldn’t believe it at first. Then I really felt it was real when I heard my singing on TV as the anime theme song.
• I was in high school when I made a debut, so I had to juggle schoolwork and my career as a singer at the same time. But now I’m a full-time professional singer and can concentrate on my work, so I think I’ve stepped up in my career over the past year.
• It’s important to keep respect to others in this business. I sometimes think that ani-son might be something similar to a traditional culture, where young singers continue the legacy of the preceding generation of singers, and pass it on to the next generation.
• Anime songs are now becoming a culture loved by many people outside Japan. As an artist, I want to deliver these songs to as many countries as possible.

Q: Thank you very much.

Savii Haris (L) and Jacky Sahn (R) from Kansas City, in their handmade costumes, returned to Anime Central for the 8th time.

From Left: Matt Groboske, Julia Larich, Ichigo Miyazaki, and Rebekah Perkins. Julia, who started cosplaying at 12 or 13, made her costume from scratch by using steel wire. Matt’s great jacket was made by his grandmother.

Jillian Snyder (L) poses in her handmade costume with
Samantha Raines, who come to the event from
Yokohama for the first time in 5 years.

Cosplayers pose for a photo in Anime Central