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© 小林大樹／SQUARE ENIX・ 「ラグナクリムゾン」製作委員会
At Anime Expo 2023, Anime News Network was able to sit down and chat with voice actor Chiaki Kobayashi about his role as the titular Ragna in the upcoming anime Ragna Crimson.
They’ll keep you busy at Anime Expo this year! Do you get to have fun in Los Angeles in your free time?
Chiaki Kobayashi: Yes! Yesterday I went to Hollywood and ate at the famous hot dog restaurant Pink’s. I strolled along Hollywood Boulevard, stopped by some of the stores at the mall, and had an American steak in the evening. It was delicious and it was… really huge! I sat at the same table as Kengo Kawanishi in Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, so we shared the same plate.
ANN: In Ragna Crimson, of course, you play one of the main characters, Ragna. He’s a very cool character, very stoic. It seems like a difficult challenge because there is a lot of nuance involved in acting. Did you find it difficult to play a character like Ragna?
KOBAYASHI: Ragna’s personality changes as the story progresses, so showing the small changes was the most difficult challenge for me. For example, in the first episode, he was more shy and introverted, but as the episodes went on, he became much stronger, more confident. Even with the dragons he faced—at first, he wasn’t too confident in himself and struggled to defeat the dragons. But later, when he gained future powers, fighting dragons became a more difficult task. Portraying that change throughout the series was certainly a challenge.
Ragna goes through a lot of growth and changes throughout the series. Did you know the character’s trajectory before starting, or did you find yourself growing along with the character as he encountered different situations?
KOBAYASHI: During the audition stage, I read the manga, so When filming begins, I will have a general plan on how to portray the changes that Ragna goes through in the series. However, after filming started, I talked a lot with the director and sound director. We all became a group to try to figure out what my performance would be like and how it would affect Ragna’s transformation. Things like, how much will Ragna scream, how much will he scream, things like that. I had individual input on creative performance, but ultimately it was a team effort to create that voice.
Speaking of which, there was a lot of screaming and grunting on that show! Is it physically demanding? Do you have any routines to try and rest your voice between takes?
KOBAYASHI: In Japan, voice recording sessions take place at 10 a.m. or 4 p.m. For Ragna Crimson, all our sessions start at 10 o’clock. You will have to scream a lot, first thing in the morning. Me and Murase-san, who plays Crimson, we act better in the afternoon, but have to do it at 10 o’clock. So we prepared as much as we could. One of the ways we take care of ourselves is to get plenty of sleep. Especially if we know we will have to yell a lot during that lesson. Just need more sleep. Different actors also have different methods. We sometimes use cough drops and cough sprays to soothe the throat before a session. We also do a lot of stretching the night before. But the most important part is sleep. I tried to get at least eight hours of sleep or more before screaming.
Tell me more about stretching. Do you think that physicality and limping has helped you in your work?
KOBAYASHI: In our work, it’s true that we only use our voice, but performance actually involves our entire body. Flexibility is important because we use a lot of our body, muscles, and throat. If it is not loosened, it will affect our performance. So by being flexible and loose, and making sure we can use our whole body — being able to present and perform with a clear voice is really helpful. It’s actually a pretty important part of what we do.
Ragna’s relationship with Crimson is complicated. Do you and Ayumu Murase record together? How does that affect the way you play together?
KOBAYASHI: In Japan, typically, when there’s a lot of interaction between two characters, the voice actors will almost always be in the same room recording and performing together. Murase and I get along really well. Even things like joking with each other and that kind of interaction is fun. We really worked our way together very well. Plus, it’s always fun and I think it really enhances our performance.
© 小林大樹／SQUARE ENIX・ 「ラグナクリムゾン」製作委員会
One of the unique things about playing characters in manga movies is that both the creators and fans already have preconceived notions about the characters. How do you react to that pressure?
KOBAYASHI: I pay close attention to the fans. First and foremost on my mind when performing, I want to make sure that when fans watch the anime, they truly enjoy my performance. But there is also a reason why I was chosen for this role. I don’t want to present an average achievement or even a generic achievement that anyone can do. I wanted to bring my own unique and original flavor to the show. I try to put as much of that into my performance as possible. Obviously, sometimes those ideas can stray too far from the original intent, but that’s when the director steps in and says, “This is a little too unusual” or something like that. But I try to constantly challenge myself to bring my own unique flavor to the performance.
You mentioned earlier that you read the original manga before starting. Do you always try to read what you can before you start recording, or do you prefer to start with more space and try to incorporate cues from the character as he encounters events?
KOBAYASHI: You know, it depends on who I’m working with in terms of director and sound director. For the most part, I feel like 80% of the time, the performance is our own interpretation as a voice actor. Some directors have a very rigid idea of what they are going to do and they plan things out in a very specific way. So in those cases, we try to adjust their image and try to achieve the goal that they are looking for. But if the director isn’t too particular and they don’t have a rigid idea of what they’re going to do then most of our interpretations of the character work out.
You won Best New Film Actor at the 15th Seiyu Awards Has that changed the way you approach your role and does it add any pressure?
KOBAYASHI: I don’t think it really changes the way I approach my role. I just feel like… this is the only time I get to do what I do. I just do it with everything I have. And there are a lot of other voice actors who are a lot busier or more famous than me. So for me to feel any kind of pressure, I’m not even there yet. It’s not so much that I feel pressured to change the way I approach roles. There are a lot of people and a lot of other senpais in the industry who are extremely busy, and I feel like I’m not even close to that yet. This is just the beginning and I’m just getting started.
It’s interesting to hear you say that because I think there are a lot of aspiring actors who already look up to you. Do you have any advice for those aspiring actors?
KOBAYASHI: I would advise them not to try to imitate an existing voice actor because we will never be like anyone else. Before I was a voice actor, you know, I really loved movies and movies, and I was studying to be a movie actor. I think that’s what gave me an edge over other voice actors in the anime industry. It really sets me apart because it gives me unique advantages that no one else really has. So, I would say that instead of trying to be like someone because that person’s uniqueness is their own, you have to find your own space and take inspiration from different fields and genres. If you can find your own strengths and advantages to stand out then I think that is the path to success. Having said that, I’m just speaking from a Japanese perspective. Maybe it’s different if you’re an American fan or actor. But I think it’s important to find your own unique advantage.