Kentarou Kumagai (Anium Premium Vol. 4 2019)

熊谷 健太郎

Looking back on Kentarou Kumagai’s roots:

Kumagai: I was born in Saitama, but I spent most of my time in Okinawa. Due to my father’s work, I moved to Okinawa when I entered elementary school. My mother was scolding me all the time because we three boys were making a lot of noise almost every day. Ever since I was little, my mother cherished the words “Thank you,” “I’m sorry,” “Itadakimasu,” and “Thank you for the meal.” I think that the fact that my mother persistently scolded me and told me not do things made me what I am today.

Also, I’m think I’m on better terms with my younger brothers now. Compared to when we were in Okinawa, the number of times we see each other has drastically decreased, but I think that everyone has grown up and have a better sense of distance. When we were in elementary and middle school, we tended to quarrel with our siblings, didn’t we? We weren’t on bad terms back then, but we were often arguing (laughs).

When I was in elementary school, I was the type that said, “I am, I am!” Rather than wanting to stand out, I think I wanted to set things off. I even ran for class president. I was doing school committee activities and things like that because I liked it. But now it’s nothing. Around middle school, I suddenly became embarrassed to stand in front of people, and I hid my voice from saying, “I am, I am!” When I was in junior high school, I often hung out with my club mates, but I couldn’t invite them on my own, so I would wait to be invited.

As for club activities, I played soccer for about nine years from the first year of elementary school to the third year of junior high school. I had an insanely loud voice and ran a lot. I was allowed to participate in the competition just because of the loudness of my voice and the amount of running I did. I was also slow (laughs).

That kind of soccer must have been burnt out somehow in middle school. when I became a high school student, I tried to join the soccer club once, but I wasn’t really enthusiastic about it. By the time I was in my third year of junior high school, I already knew that I wanted to do my current job. My high school life was centred around a part-time job. My first part-time job was at an Okinawan soba restaurant, and after that I worked at a wedding hall. I had saved up money to move to Tokyo, so I felt that even the 3000 yen for a haircut was a shame. When I didn’t have a part-time job, I spent most of my time at my best friend’s house. We went to karaoke. I don’t mind spending money to go to karaoke (laughs).

If you ask me if I really liked anime and games when I was a child, I wasn’t that type of person. Meanwhile, I happened to see Mamoru Miyano-san’s music video on a music ranking program, and I thought, “Ah, that’s wonderful,” and started listening to the song. Furthermore, I found Miyano-san’s name in the ending credits of “Mobile Suit Gundam 00,” which I happened to watch while watching TV at home. “Isn’t this person a singer?” It was then that I learned for the first time that there was a profession called voice acting, a genre of actors.

After doing some research, I learned that in Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny, for example, the character Gilbert Durandal, was played by Shuichi Ikeda, who is now a big senior at Haikyo, the same as Sazae-san’s Anago-san and Dragon Ball’s Cell have the same voice actor, or that Baikinman and Frieza-sama have the same voice actor. I wasn’t conscious of it until now, but I was surprised that they were playing a different character with just their voices. That’s what got me thinking about the voice actors rather than the anime, and while I was doing some research, I thought, “Ah, I started thinking that this might be what I want to do.”

But I was the type of person whose dreams for the future changed all the time. When I was in elementary school, I wanted to be a soccer player, then I wanted to be a schoolteacher, I wanted to be an auto mechanic. As the things I wanted to do changed so much that I can’t remember, I thought, “Maybe I want to be a voice actor,” I wonder if it will change.

But strangely enough, once again I decided that I wanted to be a voice actor, my passion never cooled down. After I started thinking, “Wouldn’t I be able to be a soccer player, a teacher, or anything else that I wanted to do in this job?” Do I really want to do theatre?

I have no confidence in my voice. I think it’s a mediocre voice with no special features. However, the fact that you can become something other than yourself with just your voice is very attractive. It’s not about my own voice being good or having confidence in my own voice, but it’s a feeling that it all started from the point of wanting to experience various aspects of life purely with just my voice. This is still true today. At first, it wasn’t because I like acting, but anyway, I wanted to be something other than myself, so I decided to become a voice actor. I think I went down that road. I still don’t like myself very much. But I think that’s why I was able to get to get this job, and maybe I was able to continue because I tend to get bored.

Since you moved to Tokyo at the age of 19, did you parents oppose you? Kumagai: There was opposition. Unlike getting a job at a regular company, you don’t know if you’ll be able to join an agency just because you want to be a voice actor, and just because you’re affiliated, doesn’t mean you’ll get a job. Also, no matter how you look at it, it’s a job far from stable. In that sense, I think my parents wanted me to get a general job. There are no qualifications for voice work, and there are no licenses or national qualifications. It’s not something that’s left over. I’m sure it’s not.

There are people who want to use my voice, so I can do the job. My parents wanted me to get a normal job and a normal life, so I think I caused you a lot of trouble. What’s more, it’s going to be difficult because I’m leaving Okinawa by myself, I can’t help but say this, but at the time I thought that having a family home in Tokyo was a great advantage (laughs). I was so jealous. I don’t know if I will be able to join the agency because I will be earning my own living expenses and going to the training school. You don’t know if your dreams will come true unless you aim for it, but you think, “Well, how far will you go? Where will you give up?” If I had given up, I might have sprouted if I worked hard for another year. But it’s a world of “What if, what if,” so it’s difficult. But I think the reason I didn’t give up on my dream was because my parents finally pushed me to do what I wanted to do because it was my life.

Did you think about something like a deadline, like what you said earlier, “If you can’t perform by what age, let’s quit?” Kumagai: l thought about it. As long as you aim to be a voice actor, you will inevitably need money. So, when I thought about whether I would go next time if this didn’t work out, I kept asking myself, “Then, can I save money again?” I was wondering if I should go back to Okinawa. I was able to join Haikyo when I was 21, and I’m indebted to him now, but I was around 20 years old at the time. Even if Haikyo fails, “No, but I still can’t give up. It’s just one more challenge,” and it’s possible that I was knocking on the door of another training school (laughs).

It seems like you never gave up. What was your training school period like? How did you live? Kumagai: I was desperate to make a living. At the time, I thought it was uncool to ask my parents for help. I was very embarrassed to ask for help because I had no money. While taking lessons at the training school, i worked part-time and took lessons again. When I was really tired, I relied on my parents. However, the time I have lessons is also a place where I can face what I want to do seriously, so it was a very happy time. There are time when I think, “I can’t do it well!” or “Why can’t I do it?” It was a very fulfilling and happy time. Even at my part-time job, I was always blessed with people, the first part-time job I started in Tokyo, the president of the part-time job after that, and the karaoke bar where I worked last. Cho-san and the seniors at the same part-time job really supported me. They helped me with I when I was in trouble, and they gave me food. I can only thank you for giving me a lot of things to do with the convenience of the shift. It’s ongoing, and I’m blessed with people, and I feel that I’m really making the most of this relationship.

Has your life changed since you joined the agency? Kumagai: I didn’t have a job for a while after I joined the office. When I was at the training school, I was able to take lessons and take time to practise. After I entered the company, I was always free during the day so that I could get a job at any time, be called to the office at any time, and be given an audition at any time, work night shift. It was longer than that.

If you are called out of the blue and you can’t go, you’ll miss your chance… Kumagai: I felt like I didn’t want to miss a single chance.

Do you remember your first job? Kumagai: I think it was an app game. Since it was a game recording, I was recording alone in the booth. It was my first time to enter the booth and do it alone in front of the microphone. It was a completely different set-up from post-recording, so I didn’t understand it at all. I remember being quite confused and nervous.

Since you were alone in the booth, you couldn’t ask anyone. You must be very nervous. Kumagai: This depends on the site, but there is a switch on the side of the booth where we speak, and by turning that switch off, you can prevent the sound from being picked up by the microphone. It’s not a very pleasant sound to clear your throat with phlegm, so I tried to prevent it. But at that time, I didn’t know about the existence of this switch, and when there was no dialogue, I just kept my mouth shut and waited upright without moving (laughs).

Something you just have to press a button (laughs). Are you nervous about work? Kumagai: I’m pretty nervous. No, I definitely get nervous. Also, I’m really worried about it, so I’m strangely negative, like, “During the exchange with my senior, I couldn’t repay you for what I messed around with.” I think it’s dark, in the first place. However, recently I’ve been nervous until the first word, but once I say it, the “tension” turns into a “tension.” It’s tense in a good way, and I think I’ve managed to find a balance.

That’s right, it was surprising that you were nervous. You said that you didn’t have much work at the beginning, but do you remember the time of the audition? Kumagai: Yes, I remember. At the time, I was obsessed with the idea, I was obsessed with the idea that I had to pass the test, no matter what, and there was some kind of mysterious pressure on me, and I think my body was really stiff. I was like, “I can’t do this!” so I kept trying to be firm.

Have you ever been so nervous that you lost your voice? Kumagai: In the beginning, it was especially so, and I wasn’t able to control the volume of my voice, the sense of distance, the emotion of the tone, and many other things. It will get stronger.

After a period of time, you appeared in various works. Do you have any remaining works? Kumagai: I had a lot of wonderful experiences with all the works. Among them, I think Hideo Kurino of “The Idolm@ster SideM” gave me many opportunities that lead me to where I am today. Also, in the midst of worrying, worrying, worrying, and really not knowing what to do, I squeezed as much as I could at the time and played the role of Aston Altland in “Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans.”

It was difficult to approach. Kumagai: That’s right. A human who was used as a pawn in battle and was driven to extreme conditions, was picked up by Tekkadan and treated as a human being for the first time. I think it’s quite confusing to suddenly be in a warm place and touch people’s warmth and wonderful things. I got lost and lost and lost, and I really had to start over and over again.

Was it a feeling that you solidified while playing a role? Kumagai: Well, it wasn’t that I solidified it, but it was too solidified at first. It was the first character that was animated, and it was a character with a role name, but there was the usual nervousness there, I would say that as I practised, I gradually lost my playfulness… I went to the scene in a stiff state and was instructed… “I want you to do more like this.”

At that time, I was so stiff that I couldn’t handle it at all. I think it would be more accurate to say that I was completely unable to understand that and put out something else, and that I was acting while I was getting more and more confused. If you tell me something I’ve settled on isn’t right, I don’t know what to do. After the recording, the director told me, “You can relax your shoulders a little more,” and I still cherish those words. Rather, when creating a role, if you don’t make it too rigid, play around, and have some leeway, you won’t be able to respond to what is required on set. I said, “I can’t decide for myself if it’s like this.” I need to be able to be more flexible. In that sense, it was Aston who gave me a lot of trouble and made me think about how to create a role.

After “Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans,” you appeared in works, and in 2018 you were selected as the main character in “Grancrest Senki.” Kumagai: I’m really grateful. I was so excited about the role of the lead that I couldn’t sleep the day before the recoding (laughs). “I have to lead the role!” I  was enthusiastic about trying to put out something more than my capacity, but would that make the play better? In “Grancrest Senki,” the other cast members were all great seniors, so I listened to the seniors’ performances with all my might, I was trying to do my best in a sloppy way.

You were fully absorbed. In 2018, the same year, “Hinomaruzumou” was released. Do you feel that you have taken root as a voice actor? Kumagai: I’ve been getting more and more requests and offers, but I can’t imagine myself being in this industry five years from now, rooted in the industry. It’s a long time to go. To be honest, I would say that a normal job is better.

Looking back, do you enjoy your work? Kumagai: Of course, work is not only fun. Of course, it’s frustrating if you an audition, and frustrating if you can’t perform well. However, I didn’t read my own scripts well enough, my reading comprehension skills weren’t good enough, or I couldn’t put on an attractive play in the first place. On the other hand, I think that when you want to quit, it’s when you’re satisfied with your job. I can’t.

It is said that if one person is satisfied, it is over. By the way, you said if you continue like this, you won’t have the confidence to remain five years from now. Kumagai: That is also a difficult question. I think that I can’t win against people who are familiar with the script, and I think that I understand the script. If you really want to do acting, you have to remember the glaring feeling you had when you first started and become even more greedy about acting and acting than you are now. When I saw the performance of the person who passed that I failed in, I thought, “Oh, that’s right…” or “I might not have thought about that…” In that way, there are times when I think, “Oh, I should have done it this,” or “I think I might have been able to do this because, in the end, I didn’t give it my all.” I think that if I want to make a living from acting, I have to become even more greedy, and sometimes I feel that I am greedy about acting. There is no end to the details, but first of all, from the attitude towards the play, should we remember once more?

Do you often think about other voice actors? Kumagai: Sometimes. Respective is a major premise in acting. Even though, I think about things like that, I’m happy and frustrated with performances of actors of my age who I’m close with, and I have both feelings. It may not be possible, but I would regret it no matter who got the role I couldn’t get. No matter who it is, there are times when I think, “Oh, that’s amazing.” If I fail the audition, it’s frustrating, but I feel like, “If it wasn’t for this person…” I don’t have anything to do with it, and I feel like it’s a mixture of respect, frusta , and the joy of seeing you doing well.

This magazine will go on sale at the end of the year, so I would like to ask, “What kind of year was 2019 for you?” Kumagai: Now that I think about it, it might have been the year I was the most lost in terms of acting. 2019 wasn’t the year I was able to appear in anime every cool, so in that time I thought, “How can I increase my chances of acting?” I thought so much that I couldn’t understand, and I thought, “How did I read the script?” It was a year when I was wavering and wondering whether I was going to play or not.

Is the wavering still ongoing? Kumagai: Yes.

It came up in one episode, but when you debuted, did you feel your own strengths? Kumagai: I’m sure that’s what it is. When I was asked, “What is my strength? Why is it being used, why is it not being used?” That’s why I want to do more self-analysis next year.

It’s time to get back on your feet. Kumagai: I have more opportunities to remember the feelings I had when I was aiming for it, so I act more boldly in 2020, and it may be important not to get lost. In the reading drama Les Miserables, I co-starred with Junichi Suwabe-san, Sayaka Ohara-san, and Jun Kasam-san. For that reason, it was very stimulating, and I was able to stand on the stage of “Fire Colour Bunraku” at Sound Theatre, which was my goal, with Kouhei Amasaki-san, who I’m very close to and respect. At the same time as I was hesitant, it was the moment when I felt, “Acting is good, and dialogue is interesting.”

Kumagai-san, what kind of person do you want to be in the future? Do you have an ideal image?” Kumagai: Ideally, I would like to become a person who has the strength to laugh. No, I want to become a person who can take in the sour, the sweet, and the bitter, and then smile cheerfully with a straight face. My father is always smiling, but when he scolds me, he scolds me firmly. I think it’s because I’ve had a lot of experiences in places where I don’t know, so I want to continue worrying and gaining experience I have nothing but gratitude to my parents.

This is the last part of the interview. Is there anything you would like to say to our readers? Kumagai: Yes. I will do my best to become a member of making.


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