9.24.2015

Interview with Voice Actress "Reina"

Voice Actress "Reina"
(Cross-posted on my blog).

Determination. Perseverance. Ambition.

Those were the qualities anime character Naruto Uzumaki needed in order to progress from genin or basic ninja level to Hokage or leader of his town, Konoha. Although there were many battles, deaths, and long, arduous journeys between his time as a naive novice and his advancement to the position as one of the strongest ninjas of all time, Naruto always found a way to fight on and progress toward his dream. Oh, and he had to contend with and tame Kurama or Kyuubi, the nine-tailed beast sealed within him at birth for the safety of the populace.

For Reina, Naruto's story has always been a major point of inspiration.

"[Naruto] was a character I identified with the most...[he] had a crazy dream, I had a crazy dream. He was shunned by his society at first [and] I was trying to make my way in Japan[.] [P]eople doubted him, people doubted me. Anytime I was down, when my [J]apanese didn't go well in school, [or] when I was scolded by my teachers, I'd just watch an episode of Naruto, be encouraged by...[the characters'] fight to overcome adversity, and then be able to get back on my feet the next day."

Luckily Reina, a Japanese/English seiyuu or voice actress (VA), never had to fight an inner beast or in a war against evil like Naruto; however, like her fictional counterpart, she had to muster up enough determination to fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a English/Japanese VA in Japan a rarity—possibly a first—for a Black woman in Japan.

Naruto pictured with his inner nine-tails.
Source
"The dream was initially for myself. Race never came into it to be honest. I'm not bound by many stereotypes at all, not even in [L]ondon...I realise though I really want [and] need to succeed." 

Reina's resolute and studious nature was present since she was little. As a child of Ghanaian immigrants, Reina's parents stressed the importance of education as a way to progress in the UK.

"I seemed to naturally do very well in school...it was strongly enforced to study, study, study."

Aside from studying, Reina subliminally immersed herself in Japanese pop culture through cartoons and video games while growing up in the 90s. She discovered Sega games at 11 and encountered the now classic Fist of the North Star anime series at 16. She wondered why the show was rated 18+, yet quickly discovered the reason.

"I checked it out and major, major culture shock. Heads exploding, blood everywhere...I checked the back of the video and saw 'Made in Japan'...and then [I] was like 'I want more!' So I became a shounen [anime made for boys] fangirl after that and kept on renting anime videos."

Eventually, Reina attended Oxford Brooks University where she studied both Computer Science and Japanese. Through the Japanese program, Reina was able to study abroad in Japan in 2004. After graduation, she was free to return to Japan to follow her dream of becoming a Japanese/English VA.

However, becoming a freelance VA has not been a cake walk for Reina. Between constant language study, working as an English teacher to support herself, and experiencing the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, Reina's 11 year journey has been marked by many trails and tribulations. 
Destruction from the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake.
Source
Reina's article in the
Sankei Shimbun.
Before entering VA school, Reina worked as IT support and as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) for two years. When the Tohoku Earthquake occurred, the subsequent devastation, namely worries regarding radiation after the Fukushima nuclear plant leaked, almost drove Reina to consider giving up her dream and returning to England. But despite the dangers, she refused to quit as highlighted in a news article the Sankei Shimbun(産經新聞) wrote about her and other foreigners who remained in Japan after the quake. 

"Nothing or no one was going to stop me from achieving [my dream], it had to be done...I looked at the path of giving up and going to London and I saw...a void, nothingness. That wasn't my path to take, and for the first time, I felt what it meant to be brave...what it meant to have faith. I made the choice to willingly risk my life and do this."

Reina with her three friends from VA school.
Yet aside from navigating post-Tohoku life in Japan, Reina had to contend with the difficulties of being the only foreign studentsin the VA course at her school. Positively, she was not offered preference over her classmates for being a non-native speaker, yet a few trusted kind, sympathetic classmates made an effort to include and assist her when she was struggling.

"I [had to] either...play their game and be treated the same or be forever a gaijin [foreigner]. Teacher wise, they pushed me. [C]lassmate wise...only three people I could truly consider my 'friends' helped me with my Japanese intonation."

Reina's graduation ceremony.
Although it wasn't always easy, Reina's experiences at VA were well worth it, and in 2013, she graduated. With no prospects of joining a Japanese talent agency, she was offered a position within three days of her graduation and worked as a bilingual VA for two years before striking out on her own and freelancing since April of this year while teaching English on the side. Since then, she has participated in her own ad-lib chat show that included taking on the challenge of doing traditional Japanese silent movie narration called katsuben. In addition, Reina participated in Tokyo International Players' bilingual (English and Japanese) version of Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet".

Nonetheless, although she speaks Japanese at a high level and has done VA work in the language, she admits she mainly takes English language jobs as she is still perfecting aspects of the language which come more easily to native speakers, "I work on reading aloud, faster and more naturally."

She advises other Japanese learns to take a careful, meticulous approach to learning the language, use all the resources available to them, and practice conversational nuances like intonation and rhythm.

"Copy what you hear on Japanese drama[s] [or] anime, keep speaking, keep reading aloud to increase your skills of seeing kanji [Japanese characters derived from Chinese] and reading it instantly. Silent reading [or] studying won't get you too far. I learnt that painfully the first three months of voice acting school."

Still, Reina's position as a VA has given her opportunities to meet big names in the seiyuu world, like Korean-Japanese VA Romi Paku (Nana Osaki from Nana; Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist), and Junko Takeuchi (Lambo from Katekyo Hitman Reborn; Honjo Kamatari from Rurouni Kenshin), the voice of Naruto!

Reina expressing her gratitude to
Takeuchi on Edogawa Lunch.
Reina and Takeuchi met during an episode of Edogawa Lunch (江戸川ラーンチ), a program which introduces people and events related to the Edogawa area of Tokyo. Reina's friend from the Film Center Tokyo School of Arts who works for the program was able to arrange a meeting with Takeuchi for Reina. It was a complete surprise. In the segment, Reina visits a komatsuna or Japanese mustard spinach farm, common in Edogawa ward, and meets a well-known chef in order to make cakes with the vegetable's leaves. She was then given the opportunity to present the cakes to Takeuchi and thank her for lending her voice to the character that encouraged her for a decade. 

"She is the equivalent of a a[n] A-list [H]ollywood star...I'd have never imagined in my wildest dreams [that] I'd meet the woman who gave life to the character I walked with for 10 years."

Aside from improving her craft as a VA, Reina enjoys singing in her church's choir and learning kenjutsu or Japanese sword skills, which are also useful for performing on stage. Within the next few years, she hopes to perfect her singing and acting skills enough to participate in a musical, establish a fanbase, work as an interpreter, and receive a notable role in a Japanese anime show. 

"I have my seeds planted, [I] just need to give [them] more water and sunshine so they all grow healthily."

Reina also has some water to offer aspiring gaijin VAs:

"Become what you want. Live life as if you're already in your dream job. Don't strive like it's a goal ahead of you...As a foreigner, competing with natives, you'll get looks of doubt, scorn, [and] derision, but you'll also get lots of encouragement and respect. For every brick thrown at you, use it. Build your foundation, the steps you need to climb that mountain, 'cause for us, it's very, very steep. Steps make it easier."

Reina's VA website: Reina『麗』

12 comments:

  1. Wow! Once again, very very very inspiring and encouraging! i love this so much! she reminds me of myself a little, i've been in love with Japanese culture since i was 6 or 7. i love that she is living her dream and continuing to work hard. thanks for sharing this! she has a new fan!

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    1. Dear SecretNinja,
      Thank you for your kind words and support! ^^
      It's an exchange of positive energy and strength when people mutually support each other, so it helps a lot to keep on walking forward and working hard. All the best in your own dreams and goals too ^^

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  2. ALL sisters need to be following their dreams and stop getting derailed by other people's opinions and problems.

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    1. Yes ma''am. Only you know what is best for you

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    2. I can understand how it's difficult for some people to jump into the unknown which is what I basically did. To some degree you need to cut your ties to create new ones and I was never known to be sane or reasonable once I got into super stubborn mode. :p

      Also "pride" is the deadliest sin of them all, but when used right, it's a powerful driving force to keep you on track. At least personally for me, it served as a shield against the naysayers and doubters :)

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  3. I may be frighetened to death of planes,but I will be submitting for a passport/passcard next . I must..eventually go abroad.

    Like I have mentioned before, there are several dream countries..especially those that are French , Portuguese and Spanish speaking countries and only because I have a little understanding of those languages. Here are my places that one day, I would like to go to.

    * No particular order*

    South Africa
    Senegal
    Tanzania
    Fiji
    Tonga
    Costa Rica
    Martinique
    Japan
    Indonesia( Another those imaginative places I wanted to visit as a kid)
    Dubai
    Morocco
    India
    Seychelles

    I admire Reina for not letting anything getting in the way of her dreams. Like she said, when the Fukiyama plant exploded, she could have left it all alone,but with that danger near her, she still didn't leave. It's been said that sometimes when there is present disappointment, blessings aren't far away. That seems to be the case with Reina. I had a friend who worked as a nurse there and she said that she had the time of her life there. I sincerly believe her.

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    1. @M-I agree with Myra. Have a friend go with you. Start small. Fly to the next state over or say from D.C. to New York. Something that is less then two hours and then just build from there. My mom is afraid of flying, but has flown to Europe and up to Alaska. If she can do it you can to.

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    2. Dear M

      Thank you for your kind words (^^)
      I sincerely hope you do get to explore and travel some of the countries on your list. It's an amazing experience to see fellow human beings speaking different languages, living different customs but yet, share common basic aspects such as joy, happiness, use of music and love of food, etc.

      Take it a step at a time. Remember to celebrate and treat yourself when you get your new passport in your hand since that's a major step in itself and then get to checking out tourist websites of the countries you want to visit, it'll set your imagination racing and your heart pumping to make it a reality. There has also been some good advice on dealing with planes here, so wishing you all the best.

      I'm continuing on working hard, not giving up against the hardship and keep on taking positive steps forward.
      One things for sure, reality is rarely scarier than imaginative fear of the unknown.
      (I can personally attest to that) :)

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  4. Your interviews with these amazing people are so cool. I am so proud of Reina and I pray that her dreams will continue to unfold and be fulfilled. I have never thought of "foreigners" when I thought of Japanese voice acting. It would be so cool to see her become and huge brand and household name in Japan and here in the States. Reina congrats and continue on your path. You will inspire many children, especially black children, whose dreams are similar and not so similar. Thanks for this interview Nicolette O.

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    1. Dear Amanda

      *weeps tears of gratitude* Thaaaaaaaank yoooooooou!! m(;∇;)m うれしすぎるっ!
      (Well, my eyes were welling if I must confess, hee hee)

      To this day, there are no Westerners who've achieved enough fame to be known in the seiyuu industrial circle. We have one Russian lady and some Korean/Chinese people only out there.
      I used to say (and sincerely, thank you for reminding me) that what I'd love do to is be working enough to get a wiki page and then they see a little black girl instead of Caucasian or Asian (since it's been done) or some other ethnicity and be totally blown away.

      Messing with people's minds like that is fun for me but for a good cause. Race/gender/nationality/faith, etc shouldn't define or limit the soul you are and what potential you can give to the world if you have the freedom to peruse it, so I do hope inspiration on that note will reach some people.

      Of course I have to keep at it a little more to create a notable influence but many of the comments here have reminded me in a good way what my (crazier) younger self was set on :)
      So truly "thank you" once again ^^



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  5. She's working on sounding like a native for her VA job, it's like super difficult, on top of being skilled at acting, wow. But she's very brave and hard-working!
    This interview is motivating me at the moment as I'm studying for 2 language certificates so that my job prospects get broader. Thank you for this interview.

    @M: Whoot, my island is on your list *smiles* I only got my passport this year (to go the US), I realize I should have done it earlier. Well, I did travel a bit within Europe but I didn't need a passport as I'm already a EU citizen. Now I'll try to travel more (and far from home) ^^ Don't let your fear of planes hinder you, try having a friend come with you to ease your anxiety. I dislike planes too because my ears are way too sensitive to atmosphere pressure but I wear ear plugs and it doesn't hurt anymore.

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    1. Dear Myra,

      Thank you for your kind comments and all the best with your language studies too! :D
      It's a mutual inspirational exchange, believe me. Surrounding yourself with people who work hard, are ambitious and focused helps to create stronger inner muscles to work through the hardships, so it's all good.

      (And thanks about the plane advice. I usually eat a hard boiled sweet or chew on something to relieve pressure in my ears otherwise torture, but will consider using ear plugs next time too) :)

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