An Interview With Monica Rial
Date: Wednesday 8th September 2004 [15:39] | Posted By: Azure
Monica Rial is an energetic American voice actress who unusually works with two studios: ADV and FUNimation. This means that she gets the opportunity to play a diverse range of characters across the anime spectrum. Fan favourites include the demure death defying Hyatt in Excel saga as well as the world famous, perky and cute Hello Kitty in Hello Kitty Mystical Theatre.
I was able to interview Monica at the UK convention Amecon (a big thanks to you all for letting us interview her ^_^) where she was invited as a special guest. This is the first time that a British convention has invited a US voice actor over, and it was interesting to note the con goer's reactions. Monica was a clear hit with the fans and I was impressed at the time she took to talk to people, whether they wanted advice or to make comments or get certain limited edition items signed. The actual interview went on for over an hour and a half. Join me as we explore the wacky world of Monica Rial!
The Name Game
A big hurdle when dubbing anime is obviously the transition from Japanese to English. At first glance this sounds pretty simple, but Monica explained that even the smallest things can cause havoc for the poor script writers who sometimes on the brink of defeat will often say a name sounds like something and simply want to change it to that. One major hurdle for voice actors and writers alike is the L/R problem. In the Japanese language there isn't a clear distinction between the two sounds. Monica illustrated the problem with an example from Kiddy Grade.
"In Kiddy Grade there's a scene where my character gets locked in a little tomb and it says ROCK and I kept thinking is she going to bang her head (Monica then yells ROOOOCKKK!) and then I was told to keep watching and it opened up and it says open! So it was supposed to say LOCK but the Japanese wrote ROCK!"
Even something you would think that would be straight forward are the character names if the studio has chosen to leave the Japanese ones in place (as if anything is ever that easy). In Gravion for instance it was thought one character was called Millenia but it actually turned out what they were saying was Marinia! Adding to the confusion, Monica says, is the fact that the Japanese studios don't seem to mind.
"I think I freaked out the Japanese"
Of course having played such a wide range of characters, there's bound to be a few odd ones in the mix (this is anime we're talking about here..) but who exactly does Monica rate the highest on the Weird-o-meter?
According to Monica it's either Shii from 'Puni Puni Poemy' (who she tells us is basically like Hyatt but with ridiculously huge killer breasts) or Ushio to Tora's Kagari (a weasel spirit).
"At one point she (Kagari) was in Weasel from and got stuck under a car in a construction zone, under an avalanche and the car was on fire. As an actor I'm thinking how much are you going to throw at me! I'm a Weasel spirit who's worried about her brother who's trapped under a car that's on fire in an avalanche."
Voicing anime also means doing weird things. Monica switched into Hyatt's voice for a moment before going on to talk about how fun it was to switch from Hyatt's soft voice into doing her horrible noises (which are done by putting water in your mouth, so now you know.)
"Sometimes I used water at other times I was really close to the microphone, and I went urcccch (Monica made a Hyatt retching sound) in the back of my throat. When I first recorded it no one had levelled it and it was so gross" When a voice artist records the sound engineer will set the recording levels so it's at the right volume
"I was always trying to outdo myself and make it more gross, one time I brought in milk instead of water and it makes this really gross mucusy sound."
This then reminds Monica of an Anime Central panel where she met Shinichi Watanabe (Excel Saga) and decided to surprise him by spewing Tomato juice out (ala Hyatt). Mr Watanabe was apparently very concerned at this, as he leaped from his seat to make sure she was OK before he got the joke. When telling us this story at the end Monica dropped her voice a little in a conspiratorial tone: "...I think I freaked out the Japanese."
Monica obviously a lot of fun with her characters and would like more time with them, wishing that more Princess 9 would get made. Carrying on with a character is a lot different then redoing previous work, so we asked Monica if there was anything else she'd like to do. It took Monica a moment to come up with a response, in the end she settled on Gasaraki, telling us "I know so much now that I didn't know then."
This doesn't mean however that Monica actually wants to go back.
"I don't ever want to go back, I always want to make sure I'm going forwards."
Voice Acting & Monica
If you're an aspiring voice artist then you might want to read on. Exactly how do you infiltrate the ADV studios in Texas? Pay close attention for the battle plan. ADV hold auditions every so often to look for fresh talent. From these auditions they look for people, which they call back when they are casting a series for which they might like to use them.
Monica tells us this means she gets to audition for a lot of characters! Each actor has their own way of preparing. Monica researches her characters online. However this is becoming increasingly difficult, as the time between a show being released in Japan and being dubbed is getting shorter and shorter, giving fans less time to put up fan sites before release. She points out that fans are an important part of preparing for a role.
"Even though I use the director to push me the correct way, when fans watch they get something different."
Talk then turned to the unique challenges voice acting has for an actor.
"As an actor when you're on stage, you have a certain realm that you're in. If you look like a teenager you can play a teenager, in anime I can play anything."
Monica then went on explain why she plays many quiet characters when she herself is a lively and friendly person. When she started voice acting at ADV, Monica confesses that she felt a little nervous being new to that genre of acting. She also explains that she has a particular fondness for that type of character.
"Those characters are more fun, they have a lot of layers. The person who's load and boisterous you know exactly what they're thinking. They don't tell you what they're secrets are, you decide what's going on in their head."
Monica gave the example of Kirika from Noir, finding her a challenge because she changes as the series progresses.
"I grew along with her, she goes through a major change. She starts to show emotion and become a real person. I wanted to make sure that there was a difference between the beginning and the end."
This move was pretty risky and led to fans criticising Monica's performance in the series. At the start Kirika is distant and shows little emotion, which gradually changes as the series progresses. It was when fans watched the end of the series that they realised what she had done. She herself admits it was a risky move.
"They [the fans] are either going to hate it or they're going to like it."
Kirika was a character that surprised Monica a lot because of first glance she appeared to be a very straight forward person. It was as Monica got to know the character that she realised that she worked on levels.
"She surprised me, in the first volume she started freaking out and I wondered whoa what happened to the quiet chick!"
Haruka also surprised Monica, who ended up finding a lot of herself in the character although she didn't feel that way initially seeing her as a typical military female. She summed up Haruka's early personality.
"Early on you could sum her up like this: I'm in the military and this is what I do grrrr! And that's not me. Then later on when she started to have a personality, she was funny and goofy and clumsy and then I got to like her a lot."
She also makes a point that she listens to what fans say. In many cases she can only take general comments when a series ends, but with series such as Full Metal Panic Monica has had a chance to take fans views on board with the new series.
Monica isn't shy about admitting that she's still learning, and has learnt a lot already with lip movement matching becoming second nature. ADV, she tells us, would rather get the sync as close as possible whilst recording as it's often possible to tell when the lengths of voice recordings have been altered. Although she admits if there's a long passage of a character talking they will cut out breath etc for practicality.
Monica is a huge Hello Kitty fan, and she finally gets to take on the role of Sanrio's cute cat in Hello Kitty Mystical Theatre. Hello Kitty is probably Monica's highest profile role to date as Kitty's audience stretches well beyond the anime fan community, although hard core Kitty fans may be in for a shock as Kitty has a mouth in this series!
Anime & Voice Over in the UK and the VAA
Monica is very positive about the growth of anime. In America it's now as big an industry as it has been across the rest of Europe for a long time. As it grows Monica believes it's very possible someone will fill in the niche and begin to dub in the UK.
"In the mean while, what you guys are doing with the fan dubbing is a marvellous way for anyone interested specifically in anime voice over or cartoons or any animated voice over is a marvellous way to start. If only for the reasons that you get to practice the lip flaps and hearing yourself back. You can be the greatest actor in the world but you have to rely solely on your voice. I've heard amazing actors who travel the world performing and they sound flat."
These actors Monica tells us are so used to relying on their physicality that when they talk it can end up sounding very monotonous. She points out that this is where hearing yourself back comes in. When you listen back you can hear where you're a little flat and have to add more fluidity.
So kind of experience do you need to get into voice over? Monica tells us that any kind of acting is important and even music can play an important role. Since anime is animated around the Japanese language it often has a certain pacing that affects the lip flap. She also tells us that music can help develop a sense of tone, which is very important in voice over work. But, as long as you're a fan, Monica tells us it helps.
"I used to turn on the T.V on and start doing the voices or just making the voices up as I'm driving along. That's where a lot of the weird voices come from. Making all kinds of retarded voices"
Getting involved in any kind of voice work helps too, any kind of commercial will give you microphone technique. There are also voice classes, which talent agencies can recommend if you ask, that can teach diction and tone. Theatre, acting, fan dubbing, all these can help.
"You guys (U.K fans) are on the brink of anime exploding. There's enough people that finally they're starting to take notice." A moment of silence followed that and then "Yaaaaaaay!! Fan dubs." So now you know.
Monica's DVD commentaries are very popular with a lot of fans, and it always amuses her when fans compliment her on them.
"Kira (voice actress in Najica Blitz Tactics) and I have so much in common that we can be a little silly. We have one together in Steel Angel Kurumi too. We got edited for the Steel Angel Kurumi one because the editor wouldn't let us release it so we had to do it twice!"
Monica also told us about the "special lost episode" of Noir. It's a hidden Easter egg, but I'm not telling you where it is or what it is. It sounds very interesting so get searching those DVDs, folks.
One thing we can talk about is the Super Milk Chan ADV skit. These are little real action parody dramas about ADV in which supporting actors in the show get to play the ADV staff, including the voice directors. Monica fans should keep an eye out for her as the receptionist. They are actually shot in the studios (note stage two of the battle plan, you'll know your way around).
Of course Monica has to be very careful what she says in these extras. At first she didn't expect anyone to really watch the Najica extras, but since it ended up being one of ADV's best sellers, Monica's had an interesting time at conventions. One of the most well known things Monica has said involved the Najica panties. In case you didn't know, the US box set contained a pair of free panties! So on the commentary Monica said that she'd only sign them if she could see them still sealed in the packaging (so she would know they hadn't been worn).
"I thought oh my God! They're all bringing me their panties in the plastic!"
She also requests that you stop bringing her chocolate.
Plans For The Future
In the future Monica would like to do some stage work if she can fit it in her schedule, as she's busy voice acting. She admits she misses the community feeling but admits she's lucky to have found that at the studios in which she works. She'd also like to be in the real action Eva movie somewhere.
Look out for Monica on new ADV and FUNimation releases. I'd like to thank her for taking the time to talk to me, as well as the Amecon staff and Joe Curzon of Otakunews.com for all their help.
Update September 2006:
If you enjoyed this interview you'll want to check out the new one we've done here.