In the realm of anime dubbing, voice actors hardly ever get to meet their counterparts. At Anime Expo this year, however, two of Attack on Titan scene-stealer Mikasa Ackerman’s voices were on hand to promote the series’ long-awaited second season. Yui Ishikawa plays the heroine in Japan, while Trina Nishimura plays her for American audiences. In an exceptionally rare joint interview here, the two actresses share their insights on the character, the show, and the unique particulars of their multinational, multi-media craft.
The anime debuted four years ago, at this point, but have you two ever seen each other in person prior to today?
Trina Nishimura: We just met!
Yui Ishikawa: We did a panel together, only the day before yesterday.
Having had to live with Mikasa for this long, how would you both describe her as a character?
Yui: She’s very strong and very cool, but her strength and coolness does come from her weaknesses. What she went through when she was a child… witnessing her parents being killed in front of her… she became strong. And she became cool, calm and collected in order to protect herself. That’s where her feelings for Eren – wanting to protect him all the time – and her love for her scouts came from. Wanting to be strong.
Trina: I totally agree. I think that Mikasa, as a character, endured so much when she was younger. And she did make a choice – in that moment, in that scene – that she wanted to live and that she wanted to fight. People frequently perceive her as emotionless, and I think that’s incorrect. All of her strength, and all of her bravery, and coolness… it’s all in order to maintain the well-being of her adopted family units, since her family is gone. It’s all like a shell. On the inside, she really is vulnerable, and she really is sweet, and she wants to be. But the world she lives in doesn’t allow for that obviously. She’s a really interesting character, and I love her.
Are there specifics aspects of Mikasa you found you could relate to in your performance?
Yui: Unlike Mikasa, I’m not strong, nor cool. But in the sense that she has a hard time expressing herself – and in words especially – I think I’m so much like her. I can understand her feelings about not being able to express yourself verbally. In that part, I feel very connected with her, and I think I was able to reflect that in the acting.
Trina: I feel like Mika as a character is so dynamic ,and she has so many sides. For me, the most relatable aspect would be her devotion to the unit – to the family unit. I come from a big family, and I was raised in single-parent household with four kids, and it was totally us against the world. So, that sort of pack mentality is totally something I relate to. That love and devotion – I’m very lucky to have had have that in my life.
I relate to her in that way in a lot.
When you prepare for this role, is it best to to stick with the script and what the director asks? Or do you do outside research, looking at the manga – or the original version of the anime, in Trina’s case?
Yui: I read the manga as it came out. In Japan, when we record, a lot of times it’s based on animatics. It doesn’t have a lot of animation attached to it. So, in order to expand my imagination, I try to re-read some of the scenes from the manga that I’ll be acting out.
Going in first, I’ll play her as I understood the scene to be. But sometimes, the director has a different take and I’ll get different suggestions. Sometimes, there will be a discussion of how that scene should be played, but most of the time, I do get it O.K. with my first take.
Trina: Get it, girl! That’s awesome.
I prefer not to read the manga until after I’m finished with that portion. For me as an actor and a performer, going into the booth cold allows me to be in that moment so much more than if I knew what was going to happen the next day in recording. That’s a choice that the director also prefers for me as an actor. I’ve worked with Mike McFarland – who’s amazing! – many times, and it’s his preference. And I’m cool with whatever he wants me to do, ’cause he’s the director!
Does he ask that of all the voice actors?
Trina: Not all of us. But I’ve worked with him on so many other projects, like Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood and Evangelion. So, that’s what he’s asked of me, and I am completely cool with that, ’cause that’s what I prefer anyways. But I’m very excited to see what happens. It’d be dope to be able to know how everything ends. I mean… nobody knows that! But you get the gist.
One major difference when you’re doing a dub, versus the original recording, is that you must fit your performance to very precise mouth flaps. How do you hit a performance while still fitting into very narrow parameters of timing?
Trina: It can be challenging, but most of the voice actors I know who do dubs have been classically trained in theater. A lot of them have musical experience. Personally, I have a lot of dance experience. So, it’s really a rhythmic sort of thing, figuring out how to manipulate your performance to be believable, and real, and true to that character, and still fit pre-animation. After a while, I guess it just comes to you. It helps to have amazing directors and engineers that are bananas great.
I can’t even express how talented the engineers at FUNimation are, and how sweet they are. Please include that. They’re amazing people. I really really care about them. It’s mostly their sorcery. I’d like to take all the credit, but I can’t.
There’s also a live-action version of Attack on Titan, with its own angle on Mikasa. Have you seen it?
Trina: I have! FUNimation has the property and we dubbed it. It’s definitely a different take on the world. I think if you go into the movie, thinking it’s going to be exactly the same, then you’re going to be disappointed. The characters are different. If you want to see kaiju movie, that is a dope kaiju movie. But if you want to see Attack on Titan, like the manga or anime, it’s not the same. It’s a re-imagining.
Attack on Titan‘s been a juggernaut hit for years, now. Why has it so resonated with audiences?
Trina: I can’t speak for worldwide viewers, as I live in the US. But I think in the US, socio-economic issues we were facing as a country kind of laid the groundwork for people wanting to see something that expressed what they were feeling. Four years ago, there was a lot of anger, and there was a lot of frustration.
Attack on Titan has so many themes layered inside of it, but one of the overarching themes is the social and economic disparities between the classes. I think that’s also why franchises like the Hunger Games and the Walking Dead have caught on. Those are all shows expressing an anger for how different life is for the rich versus the poor. I think it just was a hotbed, and people want to see average kids rising up and fighting against things that are awful. Because as a people, we want to fight against things that are unfair or awful. So, seeing that reflected in art is moving. I think that is a big part of why people responded so well to it.
I mean, we don’t have to worry about giant, naked, genital-less monsters reaching into the building and eating us! But everybody has a “Titan.” Maybe that is food insecurity, or economic insecurities, or bullying, or illness, or war, or any number of things. And seeing these three kids band together to fight a Titan, I think it gives people a lot of hope.
Off my soapbox, now… ha ha.
Yui: I think it’s based on the great story of the manga. Each episode has new surprises, and those surprises are actually building on previous episodes – making connections. New discoveries develop new mysteries, and the plot takes unexpected turns that are intriguing for viewers.
Trina: Yeah, totally.
Yui: After it’s animated, there’s not just the meaning of the text, but there are other elements, like music. Voice actors add to the characters, making the original work more interesting. Collectively, more people are involved – and they’re all very passionate about the project. They want it to be successful, and that translates into the work we put out. Also, we always end on a cliffhanger. People always wants to know more!
Trina: I know!
Speaking of cliffhangers, the last season of Attack on Titan ended on a big one, and fans have had to wait on it a couple years, now. Any teases about what’s in store for Mikasa in Season Two?
Trina: I don’t know yet, because I don’t read ahead. I would like to know! But Yui will probably have more insight than I.
Yui: So, for Season Two, you can definitely expect Mikasa to be more… girly? We use the word “otome” in Japanese. Mikasa will be more otome. Because in Season One, she was hanging out with in a trio, with Eren and Armin. But in Season Two, she feels like she’s getting left behind by Eren. He’s moving forward, trying to save the humanity, and she feels like she’s getting left out. Her feelings come up more as she tries to catch up with him. You can see her being a bit more startled in those scenes – they bring out new aspects of Mikasa’s character.
You both mention how, sometimes, you don’t even know what’s coming next for Mikasa yourselves. If there’s a mystery in the show, and you’re unsure what a particular scene is leading to, will the director tell you, or do you just have to focus on the script-at-hand?
Yui: It’s case by case. If the director thinks the particular actor involved in a sub-plot should know at this time, individually he’ll provide information. But for some characters who will eventually die off… if you were told that you’re going to die a few episodes along, then your acting might be effected. The director can’t stop them, but he wouldn’t want them to read ahead in the manga to find out their character’s going to die.
Trina: Totally the same answer! Straight up.
Hearing both actresses’ perspectives, are you more amped about what Mikasa will face in Attack on Titan Season Two? Sound off in the comments!
Image Credits: FUNimation