Much like anything else crafted, developed, or fashioned by human hands, at its heart, anime is about people. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing many of those creative souls who bring the medium to English speaking audiences. They each have their own personal stories, the often twisty and winding paths that led them to where they are now, to this time in their lives. Each tale is distinctive, and in their own ways, each is fascinating.
I found that to be particularly true of Christina Kelly. Bubbly, lively, and a storyteller, she also displays a determination which, combined with training in the arts and a lifelong love of anime, has perhaps directed her to the place she completely and wholly belongs—the world of voiceover.
And so, naturally, we met over Japanese food—specifically while eating sumptuous takoyaki crowned by dancing bonito flakes and the best tonkatsu ramen I’ve had in the Houston area (3 Little Pigs Ramen, Katy)—to chat about Christina’s ascent in voice acting and the long road that led her there. And of course, we conversed about anime—lots and lots about anime.
“Isn’t this great?”
As we sat down, Christina pointed to walls decorated with sketches of noted anime characters eating ramen, particularly to Soma Yukihira from Food Wars (she voices Alice Nakiri in the same series). Yes, I agreed. How could I not enjoy the otakuness of it? Anime, after all, consumes my life. It has for Christina as well, entering her world from a young age.
“I want to say that my very first experience was seeing Outlaw Star on Toonami when I was six or seven, which for that age, was kind of a mature show!” The adventures of Gene Starwind and Jim Hawking inspired Christina and developed her love for the medium, even though at the time, she didn’t recognize it as anime. She certainly knows the form well now, both as a voice actress and a “big-time” fan. Today, she counts that Toonami classic among her five favorites (in no particular order):
- Akame ga Kill
- Outlaw Star
- Attack on Titan
- Food Wars
But it wasn’t always clear to Christina that she would go into voice acting, or even the entertainment field at all. She remembers, “I didn’t want to do anything else. I couldn’t…” but, like most of us, found herself at a career crossroads. She studied at the University of Houston and graduated with a BFA, but also explored becoming a flight attendant, continuing the family legacy established by her mother. Though Christina made her way through a long, competitive process into the final round of interviews, a rejection notice waited for her at the end, delivered, no less, on her birthday.
Worst birthday ever? It might have been had the story ended there. An hour later, however, Christina received a call. It was Funimation, requesting that she come in to record.
“That’s a sign. I think that was the biggest sign in my career that this is what I was meant to do.”
The resulting work certainly bears that thought out, including through a number of high profile roles almost right out of the gate. Even before the Funimation call, she had been cast by Sentai Filmworks for the part of Mine from Akame ga Kill (a series that continues to ascend toward classic status, recently helped along by its streaming presence on Netflix). It was an otherworldly experience for her to voice Mine since the anime aired on Toonami, the very same programming block that featured Outlaw Star. “Seeing and hearing myself on TV was so crazy. Gary [her now fiance] was like, ‘That’s you!'”
More roles in other beloved series followed, including as Sylphyn (Himouto! Umaru-chan), Loki (Danmachi), and Yumiko (Oregairu). She also voiced Koko in Golden Time, an anime noted for featuring college-aged characters (unusual then and even now to a lesser degree) and showing the maturity that occurs, especially in terms of relationships, when one transitions from high school to college.
“I had an amazing experience recording Golden Time, though it was probably one of the hardest recording experiences I ever had. Koko has so many levels emotionally. She’s a very complicated character—happy one second and losing it the next.”
I commented to Christina that the versatility in that role is emblematic of her ability in general.
“Thank you! For a little while, I was playing the tsundere type, which is one of my favorites, but I also like playing the serious, straight and narrow types that get to my lower register. And then, I like playing types like Mimimi in Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki. I think I have a bit of a range, thank God!”
I noted that the timing was perfect to talk about Mimimi, a role that she’s currently recording for—not just on her end but ours, as we’ve started discussion on volume two of the light novel series for our May Light Novel Club meeting. That volume, and the episodes she recently recorded, focus on the high achieving and perky Mimimi who is nevertheless struggling with feelings of failure, of always being second place.
“I relate to her a lot. I was never the popular girl. Never number one. I always liked the guy and he didn’t like me back. I was always one step behind. I would do my hair a certain way or buy certain clothes, and then there was a whole new trend. Oh, those shoes are so last year! I was always a little behind, and I relate to that in Mimimi.”
Hey, it’s @ChristinaMarieK, the voice of Mimimi!
We’ll just place this here as a reminder to pick up Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki, Vol. 2 and join us on Discord for our next light novel club discussion, beginning Friday and running through early June! https://t.co/r0EsjHJBmS pic.twitter.com/FZaRetfWaL
— Beneath the Tangles (@AnimeTangles) May 19, 2021
It really struck me, as we slurped through our ramen, that Christina does quite resemble Mimimi in other ways, too, in terms of energy, optimism, and determination. Growing up a “military brat,” she moved frequently and lived all over the country, though Christina now considers San Antonio her hometown. It wasn’t the easiest childhood for her, particularly when she was at school.
“Like a lot of kids, I was very insecure. I was picked on all through elementary school and middle school, even into my freshman year of high school. That all ended, but I was still insecure. I didn’t find a lot of confidence in myself until maybe three or four years ago.”
That confidence is brimming now. I asked her how she was able to flip the switch, and her answer made a lot of sense:
I can choose to be happy and fight for what I want or be unhappy. I kind of woke up and realized I had to be happy. Destination sickness is a real thing. We always think, “In the next job, I’ll be happy. In the next partner, I’ll finally be happy. In the next place, if I make this much money… But I came to the realization that I had to find that in myself, that happiness was exactly where I was, that it was with me always. That was when it kind of clicked. I became 100% who I was.
Her response felt like Mimimi’s discovery as well, this authentic, “getting to the core of who I am and what reality is” kind of revelation.
I didn’t mention this to her, but I wish I could see what Christina was like when she was younger. You know, stick some bananas in the microwave and time travel to see her younger self from 15 years ago—even just five years ago—because as she is now, I can’t imagine a Christina who isn’t decided and self-assured.
That strength she now possesses has come in handy, carrying her through some controversy this year when she was bombarded on social media for attending SacAnime as a guest while most conventions weren’t yet gathering. But as she told me, “I refuse to be a victim ever again. I refuse to let anybody bully me. I’ll talk to you and have an adult conversation with you in person, but I will not be berated on the Internet.”
It helps, too, that she has the support of her fiance, that hunk of man who charmed this heroine’s heart. The story of how they met is pretty fun, like something you’d maybe see in Golden Time. Christina and Gary were both vacationing at South Padre Island when she spotted him. “I thought he was super cute, but then I saw him kiss another girl and was like, Nevermind!”
But he was persistent. She blew him off, but Gary kept trying and the rest is…marriage, this coming November, after eight years together.
During their nearly decade of dating, he’s gone a little gray—though Christina insisted to me that they’re the same age. Her “silver fox” has joked that she’s the reason for his premature graying.
“He can blame himself for all the gray hairs! It’s his fault. We’re together because he wouldn’t leave me alone!”
As the wedding approaches, Christina’s life is as full as ever—marriage and all the preparation that it entails is running side by side with her professional career, which continues to blossom. But even with all the success, I get the feeling that Christina sometimes looks back, not in regret, but in appreciation for the journey, remembering how insecurities and disappointment have turned into confidence and success, of the times like that return flight home from Los Angeles when she was feeling defeated before receiving a call that she had won her first lead role in a series (Iroha, Real Girl).
And even now, years later as Christina lines up work and convention appearances (guest spots at Anime Lubbock, Black Hills Con, and Delta H Con, among others), her desire to improve and secure the next role remain strong with an attitude that is unrelenting. I suggested to her that maybe it’s in her DNA to be so persistent and thick-skinned in the face of rejection, or that she’s developed this tenacity by considerable and repeated effort.
I think it’s probably both, actually, and maybe through her sense of optimism, too. As Christina believes, “If you work hard and you’re a good person, your time will come.”
I don’t think those are saccharine sentiments—I think it’s what Christina knows from personal experience, by driving hours across Texas from her home to the studios at which she works, by overcoming literal assaults from her youth to stand up proud and tall for herself, by choosing kindness first even when it can be difficult or awkward. Just by being herself, her career has opened up and incredible things have happened.
And this much about Christina is also true, and about which, when you see all the great roles she’s taken and the love that fans, conventions, and colleagues have given her, there is absolutely no doubt—her time has come.