Last week, anime song singer and voice actress Diana Garnet talked about how discovered the wonderful world of manga and even shared her personal favorites and recommendations in an interview with Manga Planet. This week, she talks about her activities as an anime song singer and voice actress in Japan!
What made you decide to become an anisong singer/voice actress in Japan?
Since I was little, I always liked J-pop and J-rock. In general, I found Japanese music more positive and uplifting than its modern Western counterparts.
It’s not as if there aren’t tons of examples of positive Western music with uplifting themes (I like Western music too) but in general, a large percentage of Japanese music tends to focus on positivity, community, communication, friends and family, love, and hope – particularly anime themes.
I also had a bit of a complex about my voice. It’s always been really high and “cutesy.” I inherited it from my mother, who also has a high melodic voice, and so while I was proud of it because it sounded similar, I was also relentlessly teased about it.
I actively pursued singing. I sang in choirs and entered opera competitions, but had been told that though I was technically solid, I didn’t sound “serious” or “mature” enough and that there weren’t a lot of places in professional music for child-like voices. That I should try to change it if I intended to pursue music seriously.
On the other hand, particularly in the 90’s and early 2000s, Japanese music featured an all-star line up of powerful singers with particularly high ranges.
Anime themes especially were so comfortable to sing along to. It was amazing to not have to struggle to try and go lower or force myself to sound “more mature.”
Hirose Kohmi, Tamura Naomi, Oguro Maki, Yonekura Chihiro, YUKI, HamasakiAyumi – even voice actresses like Hayashibara Megumi, Yokoyama Chisa, and Tanaka Mayumi are all fantastic vocalists with prolific work who have high registers.
I was really drawn to Japanese music (and media in general) because I’d finally found a medium that valued that sound and range. These artists were seriously doing music that could move people and touch their hearts.
I can definitely say I was saved by Japanese music on a number of occasions. I gained confidence in myself and my natural voice.
When times were hard, I could always find a song to uplift me. When I had nothing else, I could at least rest assured knowing I had music and a sound I could share with the world.
That feeling extended to voice over as well. I always admired the voice acting in anime. It was completely different than that of the west at the time. There was so much range of expression and different character types, even when performed by the same actor.
I probably noticed Hayashibara first – her voice is really unique, and I admired how she could sound like any type of person while simultaneously being unmistakably her.
That was something I’d never really come across or considered as a possibility before, but once I realized voice acting was a thing, I wanted to try it too.
I was pretty young, maybe around 7-9 years old when I first decided I wanted to pursue music and voice acting. I always enjoyed putting on a show for my family, and particularly when it came to music, I knew exactly what I wanted to sing.
And for that, I had to be in Japan.
Can you share how you became one/how you started your career as a singer/voice actress?
Sure! Although it’ll be kind of all over the place.
It wasn’t a straight shot by any meter. The road to becoming a professional entertainer in your second language in a country you otherwise have no connections to is anything but straightforward.
In high school, I figured it would probably be a good idea to learn Japanese proactively. Up until then, it was mostly passive. I’d been watching subtitled anime since I was like 4, so I had good pronunciation and managed to pick some vocabulary contextually, but I didn’t really have much of an idea about grammar or anything. I started taking Japanese classes at another nearby high school part-time, commuting between my regular high school during lunch.
I also thought it might be a good idea to try living in Japan as early as possible, even if for only a short time, so that I would have a better chance of learning the language and what to expect if I were to move to Japan permanently.
I searched online for an exchange program and applied to one that was active in my area. Luckily, I was chosen and in the middle of my junior year, I set off to Shikoku, Japan! I lived in Kochi first and then Tokushima for a total of one year and attended regular Japanese high schools. I entered amateur singing contests when I could at festivals and community events, and experienced as much as possible: everything from festival dancing, cooking classes, club activities, visiting historical sites, and attending live shows. I realized how unbalanced my knowledge still was and how much harder I needed to work. That year I learned quite a bit about myself and Japan, faced a lot of personal failures and shortcomings, and further solidified my resolve to pursue a career in anime-related entertainment.
I concluded that I needed to continue studying Japan’s culture, history, and language, so upon returning to the US in my senior year, I decided to study East Asian anthropology instead of art or performance, and pursue more study abroad programs.
In University, I spent another year and a half in Japan, first in Kyoto studying language, then making my way to Kobe to study in a regular University for about a year and finally, Kanagawa for a summertime communication across cultures program. It was in Kanagawa that I met people with similar ambitions to mine and we formed a band – playing at live houses around Tokyo and Yokohama.
Upon graduating I found a job teaching English in Tokyo. I also started posting covers of anime and J-pop songs online, eventually connecting to the anisong cover community as well as the budding Vocaloid community on YouTube.
It’s this utaite community that has been particularly instrumental in my career as a professional vocalist.
While I may not have been directly scouted through YouTube or Nico Nico Douga, the people I met there and the skills I learned have very much continued to play a massive role in my career to this day. Recording and mixing my own covers and meeting other vocalists, instrumentalists, producers, artists, and animators, has made me a much more competent and well-balanced musician.
It was there I also finally found a community of people passionate about Japanese music. I met so many lifelong friends and collaboration partners, and have come into contact with so many genres, songs, and concepts I would never have come across otherwise.
At this time, I did a few features for indies releases through some university connections and sent demos to every major label and agency I could, but never heard back from anyone. I had managed to scrape together the skills I needed, but I still wasn’t there yet.
I spent two years in Tokyo performing with my college band and posting covers online while working two jobs. Despite all this, I couldn’t find a way to get my foot in the door and I was starting to lose heart.
My big break ended up coming from a TV show.
The drummer for our band at the time recommended I apply to a show called “Nodojiman THE! World” which featured expats singing Japanese pop songs in a contest to decide the “best singer of Japanese songs.” I applied with my Sobakasu cover and managed to be cast for the show.
My life didn’t immediately change after it was aired. The first 3 times I appeared on it, I lost in the first round, but it definitely gave me the resolve to keep bettering myself and perfecting my craft. I still was pretty awkward on stage, super nervous, unsure of how to answer when interviewed, and hadn’t really ever thought as far as personal styling. I learned I needed to be more of the full package and more flexible genre-wise. The show features a mix of amateurs and professionals, so I was able to glean a lot of information about what to expect in the industry and what I needed to polish in order to be more attractive to potential representation as a professional hopeful.
These points converged during my fourth appearance on the show. Miraculously, I ended up winning the grand prize, and this became the catalyst I needed. I was contacted by a few different agencies and ultimately went with a Sony Music management and label. It happened to air right between school years, so I was able to quit teaching and transition full-time to performing.
I made my major debut a few months later, focusing on cover-songs, and two years later I finally had my first original out, “Spinning World,” which was used as an ending theme to a series I’d loved since Junior-high, Naruto Shippuden.
I stayed vocal about my love for anime and games, and from there I continued to provide music for various titles. The rest is history!
These days I generally perform live at various events ranging from festivals to anime conventions abroad!
As for voice acting, that ended up being a bit more difficult. No matter how good my Japanese gets, it’s nearly impossible to hide every trace of it being my second language. Japanese has somewhat difficult-to-detect, subtle inflections that can change regionally. I learned the bulk of my Japanese in the deep countryside, and if it’s a word I’ve not come across, I won’t know the inflection for it, so I’m only able to hide about 90%.
That’s just not good enough for professional voice over unless the character specifically calls for it, but luckily, there’s been a rise of English and bilingual content being recorded in Japan.
3 years ago, I was able to record my first character voice over in the English dub for the Azure Striker Gunvolt OVA through an industry contact that thought my voice would fit the role. From there, I started getting a bit more work in voice-over – mostly for games or educational content in English, and that’s, in turn, led to bilingual roles when the sound directors or casting staff realized I spoke Japanese fluently. These days, a lot of shows and games are being simultaneously released, so there’s also a bit of demand for people that can do both to avoid the headache of a double cast and extra studio fees.
People have been very patient with me, and I’m very lucky to have managed to land a few Japanese roles as well, largely based on either my singing, tv work, or on bilingual voice over work.
I still have a lot to work on and lack experience, but voice acting is something I’ve wanted to do more so I’m super grateful for the recent opportunities
I hope in the future to originate the voice of a major character in an anime. I think it would be kind of cool for a show to have an exchange student or other foreign character as a main cast member speaking in Japanese that’s actually voiced by an expat. Especially one of those cute idol shows with the singing.
So far, which titles have you been involved in?
As a singer, I’ve done themes for anime like Naruto Shippuden: “Spinning World”,
Tantei Team KAZ: Jiken Note: “Nankai Mystery”, Neko Neko Nihonshi (Meow Meow Japanese History): Thank You for the Music and “Hello Again”, and a few other random things like the English version of Puffy’s Shimajirou theme “WAO!”
I also sang themes for games like Dragon Marked for Death, Caffeine: Victoria’s Legacy, and Nippon Marathon; as well as upcoming titles Little Goody Two Shoes and Uedi: Shadow of the Citadel, among others.
As a voice actress for anime in English, I’ve worked on the Azure Striker Gunvolt OVA and various titles in the Shimajirou movie and TV franchises. I’ve also done work in Japanese for Neko Neko Nihonshi, and as an animated character in the live-action movie Prison13 among others, yet to be announced titles. As for games, I’ve done voices for Bomberman, Caffeine: Victoria’s Legacy, Switch Tennis, Shikhondo/Soul Eater, Magna to Fushigi no Shoujo, and Infinos EXA.
I started voice acting relatively recently, so most of my work still hasn’t been released yet (and it’s eating me up inside that I can’t say! Some of the most exciting ones are still secret! Aaaa)
I’ve also done a bit of consulting work on the recent Youkai Ningen BEM anime! It was the first time I appeared in the credit roll outside of vocal work so I got really excited.
Aside from singing/voice acting, what else do you do?
Oh! I do a little bit of everything!
I appear on TV, streaming, and radio, both for music and just to talk as a guest or commentator. Aside from music shows, I tend to do a lot about anime, manga, and games or shows that focus on comparing cultures in general.
I do a bit of variety as well, usually in the form of singing impressions (I learned Japanese by mimicking, so I’m able to sound like a few different artists like Hamasaki Ayumi or YUKI.) I also still occasionally appear on karaoke shows as a professional challenger.
TV is always a lot of fun.
In the past couple of years, I’ve started hosting shows as an MC as well.
I hosted an NHK ETV program centered around Go called Igo Focus for a few years between 2017 and 2019. It was really awesome to have the chance to become a part of the Go community that I first came across in Hikaru no Go. It was amazing to meet the actual people that showed up in the series.
From that, I also have MC’d a few Go related events and have done my best to be an ambassador for the game globally.
Japan records a lot of English content for things like advertising, international business, and education. I tend to do a lot of educational content in particular, and co-host (and voice several characters for) a daily radio show on NHK called Kiso Eigo 1. I also help with editing, translating, and voicing their “Chuunibyou English” corner as well as their 4-panel English manga.
I work for a few other companies that make textbooks with audio CDs, as well as various other narration work for museums and commercials.
Recently I’ve been doing a bit of acting, and have appeared in a few dramas and commercials like Shiba Koen and Shibuya Boy’s Scramble.
I’ve also been helping out with casting and vocal direction a bit too, for both bilingual and English projects casting in either Japan or international projects as the go-between, but I’m still learning the ropes there.
These days, I’m branching out quite a bit. Thanks to my regulars, I have a bit more leeway with my schedule and can choose work that sounds fun or that I’m personally interested in.
I try to involve myself in the anime, game, manga, and J-Music communities wherever possible and have recently been working with a lot of small or independent creators.
I’m spending the greater part of this year working on a lot more personal projects and original content and will hopefully be able to announce them soon!
What were the difficulties/challenges you faced in the past in your career (if it’s okay to say)?
I don’t want to be a downer or put anyone off from following their dreams but wow. There were, and continue to be, a lot of difficulties in pursuing a career in art or entertainment in general. Let alone across the entire world in not-your-native language, in a field that isn’t super welcoming to outsiders, and in some of the most volatile and rapidly changing markets in the world.
I really didn’t entirely think that through.
There have been some legitimately rough times. My dedication, faith, and determination have been tested on too many occasions to count.
Even so, I haven’t lost my passion, nor my love for this media which has given me so much. There are some amazing, wonderful people and even more amazing possibilities yet to be seen in these fields. I’m super hopeful for the future, and for that, I will continue to give it my all.
Is there anything you’d like to try doing in the future aside from singing and voice acting?
Is musical theater pretty much the same thing as singing and voice acting?
In which case…
I’ve always wanted to draw my own manga, or at least do character design. Since I was little, I’ve always drawn constantly and had actually been pretty torn deciding between entertainment and art career paths for the future.
What can you say about Manga Planet?
I think it’s a great service! I like that a lot of the titles are things you don’t usually see, too. It seems really curated. I really like the idea of an online subscription service for manga in the west, and really wish this existed when I was younger. Would have saved a fortune on shelving.
Lastly, what is manga for you?
Manga was pretty much the springboard for literally all of my hobbies and interests outside of singing, voice acting, and like… Maybe baseball?
Manga is how I relate and connect to people and ideas – it’s what grounds me and is where I find solace and gain knowledge.
I read something every single day.
Thank you very much for your time, Diana!
Diana also recorded a special message for everyone. Thank you for reading!
Follow Diana Garnet on social media:
Official Website: http://dianagarnet.jp/
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