Fanime’s Blast from the Past: Q&A with Aya Hirano

For Fanime’s 25th anniversary, they managed to bring over a name that every anime fan knew back in 2007 but has since faded in popularity. Nonetheless, Aya Hirano, the voice of the heroine of the insanely popular The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, brought all the old fans out of the woodwork to attend her panel, Q&A, and autograph sessions. Judging solely by the size of the lines and crowds, she was no doubt the most popular guest of the convention, but I luckily managed to skip the lines thanks to being granted a press badge. With a front row seat, I was able to intently watch and listen to her talk about her career and past experiences as a voice actress.

The panel begins with Aya talking about her early career. By 10 years old, she already knew she wanted to become an actress and by 14, she had already gotten her first role. Like many girls in her generation, her favorite anime is Sailor Moon, but surprisingly, she also named Magic Knight Rayearth as another one of her favorites. When she was around 17, she auditioned for the role of the now famous Haruhi. After she got it, she was brought in with the rest of the cast to explain how the story would work. At this point, Aya kept speaking in Japanese and the translator had to stop her because she was speaking too much without an interpretation being given haha. She explained how the cast weren’t really sure about the unique take Haruhi would take, but the director and producer were quite confident that the work would be a success. However, what nobody expected was that Hare Hare Yukai would become so popular among fans. It’s always the unexpected that become the memes…

The topic switched to one of her more recent roles in Parasyte. Apparently Aya was already a big fan of the manga so she was familiar with the story beforehand. Even so, she was surprised to learn that they wanted a voice like hers for Migi. When she read the manga, she always imagined a man’s voice like a prince (TL note: I’m not sure if she said old man or prince, since the Japanese words are very similar in oji and ouji. I heard oji, but the translator heard ouji so we may never know the truth). She explains how Migi starts out as an emotionless being while Shinichi is full of emotions like fear and happiness that is typical of a human. However, as the story progresses, those roles reverse as Shinichi becomes the emotionless one and Migi learns from observing humans and becomes more emotional. That was the kind of thinking that went into the story of the two characters.

Regarding Fairy Tale’s final season, she hopes everyone is looking forward to the finale. Over the last 10 years, the characters have changed a lot, and she feels like she has also matured alongside them. And speaking of growth, it was brought up that she has recently been doing some stage plays/musicals. From the beginning she had always wanted to be a musical star. When she first started acting, she realized how different it is compared to voice acting. With voice acting, she has to convey everything from emotions to body language only through her voice. Since things such as facial expressions and body language are not captured by voice recording, she can do those things during voice acting without a problem. However, with stage acting, doing those things can result in overacting so she had to learn to restrain herself.

Aya then talks about her stint in New York in 2016 where she studied English. She had always wanted to go there (like 90% of Japanese people), so she was happy to finally get a chance to. Although it was a short time, when she got back, she got told by many people how much her voice had changed, likely because of all the English speaking influence. She said more than her voice, she felt that she had gained a different sense of how to live as a person. She enjoyed New York so much that she actually visits it twice a year. Since there aren’t many opportunities to use English in Japan, she wants to practice it as much as she can since it is easy to forget when you don’t use it. She has gotten to go to more events overseas lately, and she is surprised by how many fans outside Japan there are. This time she didn’t get to sing, but she hopes that she can do more concerts and spread Anison and Japanese culture across the world in the future. For example, when she went to Shanghai, she was greeted at the airport by all the fans. She was really moved by that, and her best memory is that the egg tarts were really delicious (well, those are some good priorities).

Opening it up a Q&A session with the audience, Aya goes over some of her other works. When she got the role for Danganronpa, she was instructed to just do whatever she wanted (sounds like Ozawa Ari’s performance for Chiyo). She had played some of the previous games and had the impression that all the characters had strong personalities, so she wanted to be able to voice something that didn’t lose to that and tried to act in a way she had never done before. Even so, it was difficult because they actually did the recording before any of the art or animation was done, so she was acting without anything to go on. She wonders if that’s why she got told to do it however she wanted (this sounds like anime production problems 101). For Girls & Panzer, she had absolutely no clue about anything regarding tanks when she got the role of Alisa, so she tried to study a bit. One day she saw Girls & Panzer featured on the front cover of a JSDF magazine, so she bought it and started reading JSDF magazines because of it (literally Japanese war propaganda working even on celebrities. Japan truly mastering the power of cute girls).

Someone asks Aya what her favorite role of all time is. She says she’s done too many different things to choose but if she were to limit it to voice acting work, then it would have to be Haruhi. To this day, thinking about Haruhi and the love fans have for it makes her happy. In contrast, one of her biggest regrets is not getting the role of Kim in Miss Saigon because of her age. But Konata from Lucky Star is the character she feels is closest to her in real life. She was really excited for Haruhi season 2 and when it first got decided, the producer brought all the cast together for a meeting about it. They opened up the scripts and she saw “Endless Eight” and turned the page to see it again. She kept turning the pages and it all said the same thing. She was just like “what the heck is this…” and the director explained what Endless Eight was. No one in the cast actually understood his explanation as they just kept nodding their heads and saying “okay.” The only person who wasn’t responding though was Sugita. She thought it was strange so she turned to him and saw that he actually fell asleep during the explanation! Sasuga Sugita. The other thing about Endless Eight is that they really did do the episode recording 8 different times. Everyone’s lines changed a little bit each week but the director said that Haruhi was the one person who must not change, so her lines were the exact same every time. By the end of Endless Eight, Aya had her entire script memorized and could recite her lines on demand. As for Haruhi season 3…she gets asked this question every time. She says she’s sorry she isn’t a producer who can decide that. The entire cast would love to do a season 3 but it’s not up to them. Stay strong Haruhi fans!

And with that, my report of Aya’s panel is complete. Stay tuned for my next report on Nobutoshi Canna!

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