The Los-Angeles based ANIME EXPO is a great place to see all things “anime” — the colloquial term for Japanese animated features found on both TV and in films. But it’s an even better place to get hold of Vic Mignogna, whose voice acting talents have been found in over two hundred shows and video games — examples being Soul Eater, Full Metal Panic, Code Geass and Trinity Blood, as well as the new Pokemon movie, G4’s Wolverine and Iron Man series, and Tiger & Bunny.
But anyone who thinks that bringing a Japanese language animation to an English speaking audience is a cake walk needs to know better. Which is why we corralled Mignogna after his appearance at the Expo, who also had a surprise in store for us that focused on Star Trek: The Original Series.
Man Cave Daily: How did you get involved in American productions of Japanese animation?
Vic Mignogna: About 14 years ago I was working on a production film in Houston and one of the folks there told me that I should audition for this company called ADV, who bought Japanese anime shows and needed voice actors to dub them in English. It sounded like fun so I went to them and was cast as Vega in Street Fighter 2. I thought this would be a one-off experience, but they called me back for another anime and kept calling and before you know it I was meeting with producers from other studios and being offered parts.
Man Cave Daily: What’s involved in voice acting for an anime?
Vic Mignogna: The studio first brings in a person to translate the dialogue into English — this direct translation then has to be made conversational, it has to make sense to an English speaking audience. The English dialogue then has to “fit” into the confines of the mouth movements of the character — that is to say you can’t have words starting before or continuing after the character’s lips are moving. Frequently the voice actor will have to modify from the script to make it work — not ad-libbing per se, but changing the cadence or the pitch so that there’s no problems. Directors will also sometimes get involved and will offer changes in how the dialogue is being delivered so that it fits well. The process is kind of organic in that everyone involved works together to adapt and make the dialogue not just fit but sound as believable and conversational as possible.
Man Cave Daily: Is voice acting in anime harder to do than that of Western animation?
Vic Mignogna: Most voice actors would agree with that because you not only have to deliver a believable performance, but must do that in the strict confines of the mouth movements of the characters. Getting the rhythm and syntax down can be difficult. Western animation has you laying down the audio first and then the animators take it and work their characters against the audio for the final animation. But for anime, you have to bring expression and passion and emotion to what has already been created (i.e., the characters of the finished anime) and do it within the confine of mouth movements.
Having said that, lots of voice actors are also accomplished musicians. There’s something musical and lyrical about anime voice acting in the way you must go about it. [Mignogna is a professional music composer, singer, producer who has written and produced hundreds of pieces for TV, radio and CD, as well as having produced several CDs of his own original music that are available on iTunes).
Man Cave Daily: In Full Metal Panic you play Kurz, a secondary character, while in Full Metal Alchemist, you play Edward, who is the main guy. Are there any differences in how you voice characters depending on whether they are primary or secondary to the anime?
Vic Mignogna: I can only speak for myself, but every character that I’ve been privilege to play I’ve given every ounce of my attention and ability. Those who voice a minor character and “dial it in” are doing a disservice to themselves and the anime; I’ve often been approached at conventions by fans who loved one of the minor characters that I’ve played in the past because the character resonated with them. Besides, not being the lead means you sometimes have a bit more “wiggle” room for having fun with the character, whereas with the lead you have a responsibility to the whole arc of the story. Kurz turned out to be a really fun guy to voice and a lot more cool that I had expected him to be when I had first accepted the part.
Man Cave Daily: You’re a big fan of the original Star Trek series, but there’s more going on than just being a fanboy, right?
Vic Mignogna: No one loves TOS more than me–there’s even home movies of me playing Kirk. My dream of walking on the bridge of the Enterprise came true when I met the folks of Starship Farragut, who asked me to direct an episode of their fan series. We got along great and had the idea that it would be REALLY cool to recreate the original soundstage where TOS was filmed and continue the series with the same passion and attention to detail and human interaction that made it great. The blueprints were on the internet, we had tons of skilled volunteers willing to help — some of them being professionals in the field — and turned a building in Jacksonville, FL into a dead-on recreation. And then went on to produce our first episode in the Star Trek Continues series. No one gets paid and we are all aware that we have rights and it all belongs to CBS, but our goal is not based on monetizing but to make the show the way it was done.
Our first episode (we hope to do 2-3 a year) can be found on www.StarTrekContinues.com, and I get to play Captain Kirk. It’s a sequel to an original episode from the show and features the same guest star, some 40 years later. I think what we done is perfect as we could do whatever we want, but at the end of the day Star Trek is not about phasers and transporter rooms, but about characters and human stories. I believe the effects are done perfectly to capture what needs to happen without being distracting or overshadowing.
And yes Mignogna’s hair does look a lot better than Shatner’s did back then.