On February 6, 2016, I had the wonderful opportunity of interviewing the prolific voice actor, Vic Mignogna, famous most for his roles as Edward Elric in Fullmetal Alchemist, Tamaki Suoh in Ouran High School Host Club, Broly in Dragon Ball Z, Rin Matsuoka in Free!, and a host of others. Below are my thoughts integrated with excerpts from that interview.
Note: Click here to read the full transcript (with audio). Use the audio player below to listen to the original interview.
As I walked into the convention center room to interview Vic Mignogna, computer and microphone in hand, Vic’s success, fame, and professing Christian faith were not all that excited me. Just less than three years ago, in 2013, Beneath the Tangles was able to secure an interview with him. Three years ago, Vic shared much about his faith and his experiences in the anime industry, so I was determined to take this interview a step further, asking different questions and expanding upon some of the answers he gave three years ago.
Although I had full intentions to dig deep into some of Vic’s motivations, particularly spiritual, we started off our conversation rather innocuously, opting to talk about Vic’s personal hobbies and involvement in anime. In response to asking about Vic’s anime viewing habits, he responded, “I don’t get the chance to to watch it in my free time, mostly because I spend so much time doing it when I work… I keep my schedule very, very busy.” Instead of watching anime, Vic tends to gravitate more toward physical activities and music, reflected in his interest in sports and exercise and the music studio at his home. Needless to say, however, his busy acting career prevents him from having too much time to indulge in these hobbies, which is just the way he likes it.
As part of staying active, Vic obviously spends much of his time acting. Most often this comes in the form of his voice acting roles, for which he is most famous, but he has also often expressed his love for other types of acting. He has expressed his love for theater, in which he engrossed himself as an amateur actor when younger, but he also has experience screen acting. This is perhaps best exemplified in his Star Trek fan series, Star Trek Continues, in which he stars as Captain Kirk. Knowing this, and curious, I asked him which of these roles he preferred.
“I love them both,” he claimed. He especially loves screen acting when the subject matter lines up with his personal passions, as is the case in Star Trek Continues. However, his voice acting bias, likely a result of his vast amount of work in the industry, began to poke through as he spoke. “The best part about voice acting is that you get to play characters that you would never be cast as on screen. You can play giant monster Super Saiyans, or little demon children, or a teenage alchemist, or any of a number of things that you would never [be cast as].” With a coy smile, he also mentioned that you don’t have to memorize any lines.
The best part about voice acting is that you get to play characters that you would never be cast as on screen.
Vic continued, however, explaining that the greatest challenge in voice acting for anime is due to the order in which animation and recording occurs. Since anime is recorded in Japanese, and the audio and visuals are completed together during their original Japanese production, the English voice actors are forced to work their lines around pre-animated mouth movements. One must focus on matching what they see on the screen while also delivering an excellent acting performance. “It’s really a tricky combination of both. Anime is specific that way,” he claims. In a brief follow-up that may offend many American cartoon fans, he also claimed that one of anime’s main differentiating factors is its depth of story, which tends to outshine its American counterparts.
I’m sure some American cartoon fans would beg to differ on this point, but as a website with an unapologetic bias toward products from the land of Japan, I found it difficult to disagree with his answer in the general sense. However, having broken the ice with some life and industry-specific questions, I knew it was time to shift gears toward something more serious and more applicable to Beneath the Tangles’ mission of exploring the intersection of anime and Christianity, otaku culture and faith.
Vic Mignogna is known for leading Sunday morning worship sessions at the conventions in which he is invited. Having already spoken about this in our previous interview, I wanted to hear if he had still been able to keep up this tradition. He said that he had, though that, of course, depends on the conventions that host him allowing him to do so. The biggest change that has occurred over the past few years, however, has become his focus on testimony over Scripture reading.
When I used to do them, I used to pick a verse of Scripture and speak on it and share about it. And then I thought one day, “You know, there are a lot of people out there that don’t necessarily believe that the Bible is God’s Word.” I mean, they respect it okay, but, you know what I mean, you can’t necessarily use it as, “Well, this is what the Bible says!” Well if somebody doesn’t necessarily believe the Bible is God’s infallible Word, then it really doesn’t matter… you know what I mean? You can’t really use it in an argument. So I thought, “Well, you know, if I can’t use the Scripture to make a point, the best thing I could probably ever do is share my own personal experience.” Nobody can argue with your experience. So I decided that the best thing I could do was to share what God did for me in my life, how I came to know Him, my personal journey, and then, hopefully, allow God to use that wherever these kids are, wherever all the different people in the audience are. You know, I look across a sea of faces and who knows where they come from or where they’re going or what their situation is. But, rather than, you know, throw Bible verses at them, which may or may not impact them, for me to say, “This is what God did for me, and I know that I know that this is what happened in my life,” you can’t argue with that.
While my previous experience with Vic Mignogna has consistently indicated this passion for reaching out to people, I was still surprised by the obvious and outward zealous attitude with which Vic approached his answer. From Vic’s statements in this interview, he genuinely feels that God is responsible for placing him in a position to be around all these people and have the opportunity to connect with them. In his words, “A lot of people in the anime industry are very disenfranchised and very discouraged by the whole idea or concept of Christianity or religion in general. They’ve been surrounded by a lot of people who call themselves Christians, but don’t act very Christ-like. So I feel like that’s a big reason why God put me where He did.”
[People in the anime industry have] been surrounded by a lot of people who call themselves Christians, but don’t act very Christ-like. So I feel like that’s a big reason why God put me where He did.
With Vic’s great popularity in the Western anime-loving community, I was surprised that Vic was able to carry such enthusiasm for each and every fan of his. Celebrities who so enthusiastically address their respective fan bases are often susceptible to burnout. Vic, however, has enthusiasm from a different source compared to the typical celebrity: his faith. He noted that he probably does spread himself too thin, seconded by people close to him in his life, but he still thinks it’s worth it.
We have a limited amount of time on this planet. And you never know when nobody is going to care anymore. Every time somebody invites me to a convention, I think to myself, “One day, this may all end. I mean, one day, nobody may really care about having me at an event. There may not be as many people that want to meet me. So right now, while I have the opportunity to minister and reach as many people as I do, I should take every opportunity I can.” So, if it means spreading myself a little thin, so be it.
We have a limited amount of time on this planet… So right now, while I have the opportunity to minister and reach as many people as I do, I should take every opportunity I can.
While Vic comes across as extraordinarily approachable, down-to-earth, and driven by his faith, the human side of me finds it slightly difficult to believe that a human being could accrue a level of fame equal to Vic’s, engage fans to the same degree as he, and still remain humble. For Christians who have reached some level of success and notoriety, pride can easily become a driver for compromising beliefs and values. I posed this thought, asking if Vic had ever struggled at times where he unintentionally began placing his fame before God, regardless of whether that stemmed from his own pride or from others’ natural inclination to praise him instead of God:
The natural human inclination is to want to be praised. To want to be admired. To want to be complimented and applauded. And I’m no different. In fact, most people that get into theater, or entertainment in any form, singing, music, whatever, a lot of it comes from an insecurity. A lot of it comes from wanting… really wanting people to like you and accept you and appreciate what you do. So I’m no different than anyone else in that regard. However, I’ve often said, I think God waited until I was in my late thirties, mid to late thirties, before He opened the door for me to get into this field that has brought me some degree of notoriety, because, had I gotten this kind of notoriety when I was twenty or twenty-five, I would have been a jerk. I would have thought it was all about me. You know what I mean? It would have been a big ego trip.
So I think God knows me and knows my frailty well enough to know, “You know what, I’m going to give him this opportunity, but I’m going to wait until he’s a little more mature, and a little older. And when he is, he will see that it is not an opportunity to make a name for him, and to exalt his name, but it’s an opportunity for him to spread, you know, my love and my desire to people.” And because of the age that I am now, I see it very differently. That’s the way I see it. I see it much more as an opportunity to make a difference, you know, in people’s lives for the better. And to sew into them something positive and something encouraging and hopefully something that draws them toward God. Had I been doing this when I was twenty or twenty-five, or maybe even thirty, it probably would have been much more of an ego trip, you know?
If this response doesn’t speak volumes to Vic’s humility, I don’t know what does… which led me to wondering about a bit of a personal question of mine. Vic has frequently spoken of the conservative Christian upbringing in which he was raised. As an alumnus of Bob Jones Academy and Liberty University (my alma mater), two institutions known nationwide for their sometimes controversial stands for evangelical fundamentalism, Vic did not convey the same presence that makes fundamentalist evangelicals so controversial. Regardless of the truth or falsity of the beliefs of Christians on the conservative end of the spectrum, or the accuracy or inaccuracy of their portrayals in the news and media, Vic just didn’t seem to fit the bill in my mind. For curiosity’s sake, I wondered if he still labeled himself “conservative”:
I would. I do. But I also have, really, over the years, have come to temper some of my very dogmatic beliefs and convictions and attitudes because I came to feel that they were counter-productive to reaching people for Christ.
When I was little, we would go out, my church would go out, and we would hand out tracts and we would preach about Hell. And you’re going to Hell, all you sinners, get right. Get saved. Now it’s not that that’s not true, but there’s a wonderful passage of Scripture that Chris Tomlin actually wrote a song about called, “It’s Your kindness, Lord, that leads us to repentance” [from Chris Tomlin’s “Kindness”]. And I came to feel over the years that people are much more drawn to God’s love for them, and the very fact that God’s love for them is not based upon their performance.
It’s not based on what they do or don’t do. It’s not based on a list of rules or regulations or standards that they keep or don’t keep. His love for them is constant, unchanging, unconditional, and nobody ever hears that. They hear, “God loves you if you burn your anime,” or, “God loves you if you quit dancing,” or, “God loves you if you forsake drinking,” or, “God loves you if you cut your hair.” No, God loves you, period. There is no ‘if’. And so, over the years, I’ve come to feel like too much emphasis, when I was growing up, was placed upon those outward standards and lists of ‘do’s and ‘don’t’s, and you can reach, I think you can reach people much more by letting them know that God loves them right where they are.
So that’s one way that I feel like I’ve mellowed a little bit from the really, very highly conservative position, you know, place that I was at when I was younger. It’s still conservative, and it’s still biblically-based, and I still feel very strongly about the things that I grew up believing. But I just think that people need to know, especially in this world and this time, that God doesn’t care whether they go to church or not. God doesn’t care whether they wear a tie. God doesn’t care whether they bless their food. God doesn’t even care whether they read the Bible every morning. He loves them. Period. And he wants a relationship with them.
And here’s the thing, once you embrace a relationship with God, all that other stuff falls in place. It’s like putting the cart before the horse, you know? Rather than preach to somebody about how, you know, “Abortion is murder, and you should vote on this law to forbid abortion!” Well, you know what, I have a better idea. Get them to accept Christ, and then, once they have God’s Spirit within them, and God’s Holy Spirit ministers to them and directs them, they’re going to figure out for themselves that abortion is not God’s way. Or this or that or this or that. You know? God is going to lead them after they make a foundational decision of faith and salvation. So, that’s what I think is the most important thing to share with people.
It’s not based on what they do or don’t do… [God’s] love for them is constant, unchanging, unconditional, and nobody ever hears that.
While Christians often fall on a spectrum some label as ranging from “liberal” to “conservative”, it is the Christians that lie somewhat toward the conservative end that most frequently experience negative outcries from those who don’t share their beliefs. As a self-proclaimed conservative, it seems to follow that Vic would experience these same reactions from anime fans who like the shows in which he offers his voice. Following this line of thinking, I asked if any non-Christians, after approaching him and discovering the veracity of his faith, had changed their opinions of him for the worse:
Oh yeah, I’m sure. I’m sure they have. But, no, they haven’t approached me. Most times it’s people that don’t know me. People that have never met me. Anybody, I mean anybody could witness the way I interact with kids, no matter who they are, no matter where they’re from, no matter their background, it doesn’t matter, and they would see that I treat everybody the same. I’ve never been judgmental or condemning of any fans for any reason. So if anybody, and I know that there are people out there who have a negative opinion of me because I’m a Christian, because I’m vocal about my faith, but that’s on them. I mean, that’s not on me. I’ve not treated anyone any different because of my faith. Quite the contrary, in fact, more times than not people will say, “I heard that you were a Christian and I expected you to be a certain way, and you weren’t that way at all.”
Running out of time, I wanted to wrap up with some advice to offer our readers. Something actionable that might be more effective than simply a recitation of fact and opinion, but personal advice or even a challenge. Knowing that we often receive many questions from Christians who might be new anime fans asking, “Is it okay for me to watch [insert anime here]?” I wondered if Vic might have any advice for people in this position:
I am a firm believer that God’s Spirit dwells within every believer. That when you invite Christ into your life, God’s Holy Spirit comes to dwell in you. And He leads you. And He guides you. And He speaks to you. Directs you. What I tell people is, if it is genuinely your desire to know what God wants for you, ask Him. Ask Him to show you. Ask Him to reveal it to you. And then listen. Perhaps read His Word. Pray. I don’t think that God wants to hide. I think that God is eager to direct and guide us and lead us. So, I don’t think that He is going to be purposefully elusive. Like, “I don’t want you to know what I really want you to do.” No, He desperately wants us to know!
So I would encourage Christians of all degrees of maturity to ask God what He wants for them. I mean, the Apostle Paul even said, you know, “There are some things that are fine with me, but they’re stumbling blocks for other people,” right? There is not one blanket answer for everybody about those kind of standards. Each person needs to decide where God wants them to draw the line. And I would encourage people to seek God and ask His Spirit to reveal to them what kind of things are okay for them, and what kind of things He would rather them steer clear of. And if, you know, you cross that line, I think He’ll tell you. I know I’ve crossed it. I know I’ve done things before, or been a part of things, where [I was] like, “Ugh, man, I shouldn’t have been a part of that show.” You live and you learn. But the good news is God loves you regardless.
There’s no fear if you know that God loves you regardless. You don’t have to be afraid that you’re going to make a mistake and you’re going to fall off the tightrope of walking that straight and narrow, no. You know? Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. The freedom is in knowing that no choice you could ever make, no mistake you could ever make, no bad call you could ever make is going to change His love for you, His commitment to you, His steadfast presence in your life.
Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. The freedom is in knowing that no choice you could ever make… is going to change His love for you…
As Vic stood up from the table and I began to clean up my recording gear, I thanked him again for his time. Vic had sacrificed the only break he was given for nearly the entire day, just thirty minutes between an autograph session and a showing of one of his productions. Instead of using that break to relax, get a drink, and use the restroom, he instead offered to have a conversation with me. Perhaps professional journalism shouldn’t demonstrate such bias, but as an individual writer representing a community-driven blog that attempts to bridge the gap between different beliefs held by those with a niche interest, I left with a great respect for the man.
You may not watch English-dubbed anime. You may not like Vic Mignogna’s voice. Heck, you may not even like him! But nobody can argue that Vic Mignogna is not an individual passionate about what he believes.