When Horimiya premiered during the winter 2021 anime season, it was accompanied by an abundance of buzz. Featuring a beautiful, dreamy quality to the animation, and based on a beloved manga, curiosity for the series was heightened further when Funimation announced a diverse and largely lesser known group of actors for the English voice cast, including the actress voicing lead character Kyoko Hori: Marisa Duran.
Horimiya marked a huge step forward in Marisa’s voice acting career. Although it wasn’t her first anime role, nor would it be accurate to categorize her as an overnight success, voicing Hori helped popularize her among anime fans. As I recently chatted with Marisa over coffee, I discovered that in her relatively young career, she’s already experienced much, though it was an even earlier event that informed not only how she approaches acting, but life in general.
More recently, Marisa has featured in substantial roles in other Funimation properties, too, like Shadows House and The World Ends With You. But she was little known in the fan community before her breakthrough role as Hori. Caitlin Glass, ADR director for the series, explained the casting decision:
I cast Marisa as Hori because I enjoyed her natural reads and the choices she made. They were refreshing. Not what I was expecting, but I immediately knew they were ‘right’ at the same time. Marisa has a wonderful honesty to her acting and an ability to connect to the character so well.
That she would land the high profile role, however, came as a surprise to Marisa. She auditioned for both Hori and Kono, but mostly zeroed in on the latter. “She’s a smaller character, the one I thought I’d have a chance with. But on Thursday of [the audition week], I was working and received an email from Tara at Funimation asking, ‘Can you come in to record as Hori in Horimiya?’ I was like, holy crap! It was unexpected, a total leap for me.”
A “leap” is right. Marisa had been performing solely as walla—that group of background actors you hear in various scenes in anime—since 2015. But when the pandemic hit, she decided to make an investment in her voice acting career. Like many VAs did in 2020 and 2021, she purchased recording equipment to set up a home studio, and also began to pursue roles more aggressively. The effort paid off.
For those who have yet to see Horimiya, we highly recommend the series. It’s a quick jaunt through the love lives of a group of high school friends and acquaintances, with each receiving an introspective look which reveals that they’re far more than what others see them as. Hori, for instance, is beautiful and popular, but she rarely spends time with friends outside of school because, as it’s revealed, she takes care of her younger brother and the household until her mother returns home late from work.
Marisa felt that it was incredibly fitting that her first name role would be as Hori:
“I think I got it because Hori is me,” Marisa shared, explaining that the character is like an extension of her, an Aries who is “fiery and stubborn, but with a heart of gold if you can peel back those layers.”
For her part, Caitlin sees Marisa—whom she also later worked with on Shadows House—as being able to deliver an authentic performance. “You’d think that type of ease and natural quality [which Marisa has] should come easily for actors, but more often than not, it doesn’t, especially to those who are frequently so hyper-focused on their ‘sound’ that they get ‘in their head’ about it, and subsequently get in their own way of a good performance.”
And make no mistake, Marisa is a talented performer. Caitlin’s evaluation confirmed my own untrained eye when I witnessed her turn as Hermia in a Shakespeare Everywhere production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Her take on the character was loud and ambitious, and wholly unlike the rest of the cast. In a play of excellent performances, hers stood out.
Meanwhile, Marisa is also attracting attention in the world of film. She’s spent much of her time the last few months attending film festivals that are screening Crude Massacre, a horror short in which she plays Annie Burke, a young woman pursued by a madman across a west Texas oil field. The movie has garnered multiple award nominations and prizes at the festivals, including those for Marisa as “Best Actress.”
But while her career is moving on an upward trajectory right now, it wasn’t so just a few years ago, shortly after she graduated from TCU with a degree in acting. I asked if Marisa was considering leaving the profession at the time.
“Yes, absolutely. I went through a quarter-life crisis—it’s very real! I had been getting cast consistently and then it dried up. I took it really personally…and I just couldn’t pinpoint what the problem was. I got burned out and for a whole year, I stopped auditioning.”
I can’t imagine stepping away from my field of study, my intended career, the passion I’ve had since childhood like Marisa did. In hindsight, though, what seemed a scary choice was the correct one. While considering her options, she kept busy. Marisa worked at Starbucks, an establishment she would be employed by twice (she’s a coffee fanatic). And she did something entirely new for her, as well—she modeled, an experience that was transformational:
“It shifted something in my mind: You are good as you are. You are enough.”
The change in how she felt about herself physically parlayed itself into how she looked at other aspects of her life as well. Marisa reevaluated her career and came to the conclusion that she needed to change her approach to acting. Instead of trying out for and accepting role after role without much consideration except how they would help her achieve financial independence, she returned to the purity of the thing, the reason why she wanted to act in the first place.
And Marisa also considered another goal in her acting: “To tell stories and leave people better than I found them.”
Those words have become a mantra of sorts, a mission for her life and her career. They even feature on the bio page of her website. To understand why that’s so, we’ll have to jump back further in time, before her quarter-life crisis, to a deeper and more dreadful valley.
When Marisa started high school, it was with the challenges we all face when we enter that stage of life, but with additional burdens as well—ones she wouldn’t understand until later through the assistance of therapy and by self-evaluation—like those associated with the stress of years of Talented and Gifted education, and others involving psychology and brain chemistry.
During her sophomore year, Marisa went through a troubling and difficult breakup. A challenging experience for most any high schooler, for Marisa it resulted in destructive behaviors toward herself and others, culminating in emotional and psychological collapse.
“Something snapped in my mind and I lost it. I went to a really dark place. I was lucky my parents ‘found me.’”
More than finding her, Marisa’s mom and dad took immediate action. Marisa checked into a psychiatric institution, started taking medication, learned healthy coping strategies, and began seeing a counselor. After several weeks, she would return to school and onto the road to recovery.
The impact initiated by this event and response was profound. Armed with more knowledge about herself and how to work through such challenges, Marisa grew to become a more positive person. Later, she began to share with others about the need to address mental health struggles. The openness with which she’s revisited her past has led to a productive response, with even former classmates saying that her story helped them give voice to their own mental health struggles.
By the time she hit that twenty-something wall, Marisa had the tools she needed to surmount such an obstacle. She returned to auditioning with her new approach and a naturally more encouraging outlook. That response, too, proved to be a turning point for Marisa, who felt that her auditions were now stronger. Eventually, more voice work followed.
After Horimiya, she played other roles like Lou and Louise in Shadows House, Konishi in The World Ends With You, and most recently, supporting parts in an episode of My Hero Academia. Fans are recognizing and enjoying her work, and directors are giving praise also. Caitlin called her “one of the more talented new voice actors I’ve come across in recent years.”
That praise strikes me in a different way, as well—it reminds me that Marisa is still very young, early in a career and life that seems more lengthy by all she’s been through. In just the past dozen years, she’s been diagnosed with depression, hospitalized, completed high school, attended and graduated college, gone through a quarter-life slump, acted in plays, movies, and major anime productions, and won awards and accolades for her work.
In a brief time, Marisa has developed a career and life that serves as testament to what one can achieve even when things go terribly awry, a reminder—especially for young people with mental illness—of how life can improve and progress, and an underscoring that the platitude, “It’ll get better,” often does ring true.
Marisa’s experience is an example that not only can you stand back up after falling hard, but you can rise as a changed person. To that end, and especially with all our discussion of her movement toward optimism, I wondered if Marisa consider herself more naturally a pessimist.
She took a second to take in the question before responding:
If you had asked me back then, I would have said, ‘Yes.’ I thought that was who I was…My positivity back then was a facade. Now that I’m in such a healthy place mentally, I’ve rediscovered who I am and what my purpose is, and because of that, it’s been just a complete 180. Even on my worst days, I can still be positive. I was at my lowest low and I still made it out. If I can make it through that, I can make it through anything.
Navigating through a valley can be complicated and painful. It’ll lead to scars, and even once you’ve made your way out, you may find yourself falling into a crevasse once again. But as Marisa’s career flourishes, as she uses her talents and skills to engage audiences and her personal story to relate to and support them, she’s presenting a model to us as well, particularly those who feel they’ve bottomed out:
I was at my lowest low and I still made it out. If I can make it through that, I can make it through anything.
What a life-changing concept to learn and what a reassuring message to know, that there is hope, not just for a life—but for a future, shining and brilliant.