Asami Shimoda Interview

Image source: ASCII Weekly

On the occasion of the Kagamine Append release, Asami Shimoda, the voice actor who provided the voices for the Kagamines, gave an interview to the Japanese website “Shuu-asu”. She was joined by Wataru Sasaki, the creator of Miku, and the person who’s in charge of the Vocaloid products at Crypton. Follow us after the break to take a look behind the scenes of the Kagamines voicebanks’ creation and release!

DT’s note: This interview has been kindly translated by one of my colleagues kurisuto over at Vocaloidism, which I have ported over here with his consent.

It’s been 3 years since the Kagamines were released.

Asami Shimoda: You’re right. It’s been 3 years, but the recording actually took place a little less than 3 years ½ ago. I remember the Miku boom was occurring back then. At the time, I thought Vocaloid was a DTM software that only professional and amateur music makers would enjoy and use to provide temporary vocals.

It’s really surprising to see that 3 years later the characters are still so much loved! It’s just unbelievable. For instance, there are CD’s I know nothing about that are being released. Miku’s Cds top the Oricon charts, and there are games developed by Sega that got really popular. I was also surprised when I saw that most cosplayers at Comiket were wearing Vocaloid costumes.

You go to Comiket?

Shimoda: I often do. I love it!

And do people recognize you as someone who worked on Vocaloid, and talk about you being there?

Shimoda: I go there under disguise, so no problem with that! (laugh) The Kagamines have sort of become national emblems, so there’s nothing that makes me more happy than having been part of it. I’m really looking forward to continue meeting all these cosplayers in the future and celebrate the 4th and 5th anniversaries with them.

What has changed since you voiced Rin and Len?

Shimoda: I’ve been receiving more letters from kids, for instance elementary school students.

They listen to Vocaloid music?

Shimoda: Nowadays, kids use the internet too. I receive more and more messages like “everybody listens to it at school”, “I’m part of the broadcasting club, and during breaks I put Vocaloid music on air”. It seems listening to Vocaloid music on NND for instance is really popular in schools.

I also receive a lot of illustrations. But since I only provided the voices, I can’t help but feel a bit sorry, and think “I don’t actually do the singing”.

Getting back to the beginning, where do the names come from?

Wataru Sasaki: Let’s see… When we began recording in early 2007, we hadn’t chosen the names. There was this anime, “Fist of the North Star” (“Hokutou no Ken”), that Mrs Shimoda really liked back in the day, and we would talk about it from time to time in the studio. And then we were like “wasn’t there a certain ‘Rin’ in this anime?” And suddenly, while Mrs. Shimoda was recording, we were like “that was Rin!”, and we started thinking we could go with Rin and Ken.

Seriously?

Shimoda: Yes. We figured “Rin and Batt” was a bit too straightforward of a reference, so we thought Rin and Ken was just fine. (laugh)

Sasaki: There’s a conscious rapper from Hokkaido that goes by the name of “Shuren the Fire”, in reference to the character of “Fist of the North Star”, Shuren. We may be a bit too used to this kind of homages.

Shimoda: In fact, I didn’t know the names had been changed to Rin and Len until someone from Crypton told me about it just before I was going to give an interview to some magazine, and it was such a relief! I immediately thought Len was a very cool name. Their names could thus be represented as “L” and “R”, and it had a nice ring to it.

Why did you choose “Len”?

Sasaki: I always end up partly using jokes in my works! (laugh) I often use jokes so that the fun atmosphere of the studio gets through in the products, it spices things up.

When you were contacted more than 3 years ½ ago, what were you told?

Shimoda: I only knew I had to make two voices, that they wanted it to sound like a single person were performing two different voices. I thought they auditioned me because they deemed me capable of performing both a boy and a girl’s voice, so I was really happy,

Were you contacted after Miku’s release?

Sasaki: No, it was before.

Shimoda: It was just after they chose Saki Fujita for Miku’s voice.

Were you thinking of the Kagamines as twins at this point?

Sasaki: Well, since the iDOLM@STER videos were really popular at this time, I thought people would instantly recognize her as the one who dubbed the twins. The point of it was to have two characters that were only slightly different. The fact that people would realize a single voice actor was behind the two characters added a nice touch too.

Shimoda: Yeah, I think so. There aren’t that much voice actors who perform such twin-like roles.

Sasaki: Plus, by performing the twins in THE iDOLM@STER and the Kagamines, who are mirror images , you’re likely to get more offers for this kind of dual-roles in the future.

Shimoda: You know, I do voice acting in other venues too, and there are quite a lot of people who are in charge of animes that like Rin and Len. For instance, in the first episode of some anime I worked on, there was a scene that took place in a park, and there was a road-roller, as if it was completely normal! (laugh)

Amazing, the Kagamines have really gotten popular! When you have to perform Rin and Len, do you have some tricks in order to do these different voices?

Shimoda: No, not really. I don’t do it consciously, it’s more an intuitive thing.

Sasaki: It seems it just happens like that.

Shimoda: Yeah… If I had to describe it intuitively, I’d say the difference is that Rin comes out from the top of my head, while Len comes out from my belly. I imagine Rin’s cute and punchy voice springing out from the whorl of my hair. You know, this kind of high voice you do with your eyes wide open, it really comes from there. On the contrary, Len’s low voice can’t come out properly if you don’t use the power of your belly. I see his voice as coming from the center of my belly, it comes from below.

Sasaki: I think the listeners just feel that. Those who don’t like Rin’s voice mention how her voice resounds in their heads, and makes them feel dizzy, although there are people who like this kind of voices too. Rin and Len’s voices sound like lightning coming down with a “boom”, or rather, they somewhat sound like screams. Len’s high voice in particular has been criticized a lot.

When the first Append demo got out, people kept talking about it.

Sasaki: Yeah, we heard things like “Len just can’t sound soft, or else it wouldn’t be Len anymore!”

In Append, six new voices have been added, because there was a need for finer nuances in terms of expressions. How did you manage to perform them?

Shimoda: Mr. Sasaki gave me instructions. I have never recorded samples for Rin and Len, and what’s more, these samples will be processed by the Vocaloid engine, so it makes it harder to know what to do. While recording, there were times where I asked myself things like “Does that really sound like Len’s whispery voice?”

Were there difficult voices to perform?

Shimoda: Definitely, but I can’t remember which it was…

Sasaki: The recording process spanned several days, and since the voicebanks were to be named only after they had been recorded, there was some confusion in the studio. We first recorded a slightly tense Rin voice, then a somewhat moody voice as well as a somewhat romantic voice for Len. At some point, we also recorded a more powerful voice, and the last one was a whispery voice.

Shimoda: We did a lot of recording. For the moody voice Mr Sasaki just mentioned, I had been told to do a sad voice in fact. But since it didn’t fit what he originally had in mind, he told me to do a “moody” voice instead, and he found it great. It took quite some time.

For the recording, you didn’t actually have lines to say. I hear it was very difficult to convey emotions.

Shimoda: I had to say weird things like “zan, zan, jii”, and basically I had to say everything with an even intonation. With normal lines you can accentuate some parts and express sadness for instance, but if you do that for Vocaloid recordings, your voice becomes inconsistent.

It requires to do more difficult things than regular acting, right?

Shimoda: I think so. It requires a lot of concentration! We recorded for about 4 hours a day, and a total of about 25 hours; when you have to repeat the same words for a long time, you can get sleepy if you don’t concentrate enough. In the studio, unlike what happens in an anime studio, the staff and the sound engineer were very quiet, and the only thing I could hear was my own voice. There was also a sound I had to match my voice to, for the rhythm.

Sasaki: A bit like sutra chanting… It sounded like the Heart Sutra. (laugh)

Shimoda: Yeah, I really had the impression I was hearing a sutra. At some point, I even had the impression I was half-asleep. Now I wonder if I managed to record everything properly…

Sasaki: Nah, you did just fine! (laugh)

Shimoda: Really? I really hope I did. It wasn’t really about having fun for me; I was more of trying hard to concentrate.

How did you feel when it was over?

Shimoda: I was like “ah, I can’t work anymore today!” I had the impression I had used all my energy.

And how did you feel before the release?

Shimoda: I thought it was amazing to release it exactly three years after the first release! Was it on purpose?

Sasaki: Yes. Three years ago, the retailers were pressing us to get it ready at least for Christmas, and they did too this year for the Append release.

Indeed, it was released after Christmas, it wasn’t the ideal moment.

Shimoda: But then, releasing it three years after the original release is a good timing. I hope people will organize events every year on December 27th, to celebrate Rin and Len’s birthday.

Three years ago, I was like “it’s gonna be released very soon!” After that, people started sending me lots of emails, and I was like “finally, it has been released!” And then this year it’s the same thing all over again; when I recorded the first time, I couldn’t imagine this would happen.

In Act1, I just recorded without emotions, but in Append, there are sad, whispery and gentle voices for instance. It will add some depth to the songs, and I hope new users of Vocaloid will seize this opportunity to play with it.

What a wonderful comment!

Sasaki: No one can promote a product better than her! How about you come work at our company? (laugh)

Shimoda: You don’t have enough employees?

Sasaki: No, not enough employees, and not enough smiles either.

(laugh) To conclude this interview, can you tell me what kind of songs using Append you’d like to hear?

Shimoda: It’s a difficult question. I think the Vocaloid genre is exhausted, because Miku Hatsune is probably the artist that has the biggest number of songs in the world. That’s why it would be great to listen to songs where Append is used to its full potential. For instance, if it’s a ballade, using the whispery voice to make it sad, or on the contrary, use a more powerful voice to add a twist, and so on.

Sasaki: I think it’d be fun to use MMD and make manzai skits with Rin and Len. Then you’d have Rin hitting Len, and he’d suddenly change from Power to Serious, like he was crying. But anyway, what really matters is that people use it to their liking.

And with that ends the interview with Asapon, hopefully we can get more of such interviews in the future. =)

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