One of the most prolific anime voice actresses and ADR scriptwriters of the past decade, Katelyn Barr has voiced Ryukyu (My Hero Academia), Ren Soma (Fruits Basket), Baby 5 (One Piece), and Nikki Hanada (Dr. Stone), among many other characters, and written scripts for series like Akame ga Kill, Haikyuu, and The Quintessential Quintuplets. I recently connected with Katelyn, whom I met at Ecchi Expo, to talk about her work and transitions in the voiceover industry. I hope you enjoy reading our conversation below!*
You’re originally from North Carolina. What went into that decision to move across country to Texas? Was it for the voiceover community?
I was actually married when I graduated college. I moved to Texas for my then-husband’s job. It had nothing to do with acting! I sort of viscerally knew that anime was largely done in Texas but at the time, I didn’t know it was something I could do. It was sort of like a “Hollywood thing.” But then I was very fortunate to be in a position to do it.
So how did that happen? How did you go from moving out to Texas do getting work with Sentai?
I’m glad you asked! I started in Houston and was acting professionally. My first gig was in a children’s theater in Houston that did touring theater for children, and there was a lot of overlap between that community and the voiceover talent pool in the city. There were a lot of the same people involved, and they said I should audition for Sentai, which at the time was doing a lot of open call auditions, and I somehow got on the list (I have my suspicions as to who got me on the list—I think I knew who it was and I’m forever grateful to that person!).
I went to an open call and auditioned for Emily Neves. I read a bunch of characters for her and about a month later, I got called in for Log Horizon.
And things have taken off since that time. You’ve crossed over and worked for other companies, too, like Funimation, for whom you recently voiced Ren Sohma (Fruits Basket), which was such a pivotal role in season three. How did you approach that role?
Oh, I’m really glad you asked about Ren. I haven’t really gotten to talk about her very much, and that character is really special to me because I read Fruits Basket when I was in high school with my two best friends. I wanted to be part of Fruits Basket so much!
You’re part of that generation that really treasures the Fruits Basket manga.
Yes! I’m so glad you understand! Also, when I first moved to Texas, the first friend I made, her name was Stephanie, we were in a play together—this community theater production of Tarzan—and she was a fan of Fruits Basket but hadn’t read the manga. So I lent her my copies and while we were rehearsing, she read through it and we bonded over that. She and I cried over Fruits Basket!
Stephanie actually later passed away. I miss her, and Fruits Basket is my little piece of her that I hold onto. So when the remake started to come out, I was crossing my fingers. So to be Ren, to be the villain, was like, “This is interesting!” I approached it from the opposite perspective, with all the kindness I possibly could. And Caitlin, the director, is also a super fan of Fruits Basket. They could not have chosen a better director. She knows Fruits Basket inside and out, and she wanted every single detail, down to single words, to be carefully chosen. Every fan of Fruits Basket should be thankful that Caitlin directed it. And she helped me so much with every single line, reminding me of where Ren was coming from. She kept me mindful and in that space, remembering that Ren is where she is because she has no love in her life.
That’s a profound take on the character, and a connection to the series I didn’t know you had! Moving to a lighter series and a bit more levity, you’ve also voiced Ryukyu from My Hero Academia for Funimation, and she now has her own Funko Pop! What’s it like to have a character with a Funko?
It’s definitely a career milestone for me! It’s not out yet, but I’ve preordered one. I can’t wait to hold it in my hands! I’ve always wanted a Funko so bad and I figured Ryukyu would be the one because My Hero is the gamechanger. It skyrockets your career. You and I met at Ecchi Expo and it was the first con I had done since the pandemic, and also the first since Ryukyu was announced and I definitely saw a night and day shift in fan recognition. Fans came to my booth and said, “Oh, you’re Ryukyu!” and it was something I wasn’t used to.
I want to also ask you about the other side of the work you do in anime, with scripts. What kind of skills are necessary to work on scripts?
It definitely benefits to have skills as a voice actor. Though it’s not necessary, most scriptwriters in anime are voice actors and have booth experience. I’ve heard other scriptwriters say that a music background is helpful, too. It’s funny—I’m not the only drummer that’s a scriptwriter (Tyler Walker also plays drums)! That sense of rhythm and beats seems to help with the rhythm of mouth flaps, an understanding of that timing of how an actor would deliver in a booth. I can make a good guess as to what words will be emphasized or what to stress and how actors will read a line. And this doesn’t necessarily apply to me, but I’ve also heard that people who are well read—avid readers—are really good scriptwriters. Actors, readers, musicians!
Wait a second—you’re a drummer? Where did you get that background? Are you in a band?
When I was little, I was taught by the drummer from my parents’ band. My parents are ministers and they have a band for their ministry. I’m not in a band right now, but I recently started playing with Emily Neves. She writes her own music, and we’ve been trying to mess around with it and get something together.
Very cool! Back to anime and scriptwriting—is there a script you’re particularly proud of?
Yes! It’s from way early in my career and a show that was not popular at all. It was one of my first scripts but I think still holds up as some of my best work. There was this show called Wizard Barristers and not only did I have to learn a lot of legal jargon and fit long verbiage and giant paragraphs into flaps, but all the main characters who were wizards had animal familiars who spoke in animal puns! They would talk about law with their animals puns, and there was an episode where all the familiars sat around a table and had a conversation about law, and I feel very proud to this day of how I handled that!
How fun! I know that even now, though, you continue to be busy with work. And the anime industry, as a whole, continues to take off. But these past two years have added that additional dynamic of working through COVID, which seemed to really lead to major changes in voice acting. Do you see these changes a major shift, or something more minor and passing?
I could be totally wrong, but I see it as a big shift. COVID was a game changer. At the beginning of the pandemic, there was this mad scramble. A bunch of us panicked. I didn’t know anything about recording from home. I didn’t have space to record in. When I recorded auditions, they sounded like trash. I didn’t know what I was doing, which was okay since most of us didn’t have home studios. But in March and April of 2020, people were rushing to buy sound equipment and whisper rooms. One of the brands of home booths ran out of stock. You couldn’t find certain interfaces and certain lights—it was nuts! We were all, “What do we do? What do we do?”
What I always say is, “Thank God for audio engineers.” They really saved the industry. They were the ones that got the studios’ directors and actors to the point that they could help themselves.
What Funimation did was—and it happened pretty quick—was put together these home recording kits which rolled out over a few weeks. There were about about 400 in circulation by the end. They had a USB microphone you could get by on, an iPad, a mic stand, a pop filter, and all the cords and cables you needed to record yourself from phone. You’d get on a call with a director and engineer, and learn to engineer yourself on your sessions for the first few months. It sounds easy, but for a lot of us, like me, it was a lot! Some took to it like fish, and some did not. But thanks to engineers, we got there!
It made everybody set up their game a little bit. I set up my home studio during this time. I ended up getting one of those vocal booth-to-go things, I got my first audio interface, I upgraded from a USB mic, and now I can actually record stuff from home. A lot of actors are at that point now because we took that crash course.
It kicked us in the pants. We were all forced to learn real quick to stand on our own two legs a little. I can kind of get by a little bit, and hopefully there’s an engineer on the other end to make me sound good!
Because of all that, I think the expectation is going to be higher for voice actors turning in auditions. There’s going to be higher capability for remote recording. For example, I’m in Shadowverse and Final Fantasy Brave Exvius now because I could record for L.A., and that’s great, but it also expands the competition for everyone. I might be able to get an actor based in Missouri or anywhere in the country. It made things easier and harder.
One last question—what are some currently airing series that our readers can catch you on?
Right now I’m voicing Rim, the first girl in the harem of girls in The Dungeon of Black Company. She’s quickly become my favorite character I’ve ever voiced, which is funny because I’ve voiced all these complex villains, all these layered characters, and she’s not that. She’s so simple. And that’s such a welcome shift for me, to play a character that’s only motivated by food! That’s on Funimation right now. As a writer, I’m currently working on Scarlet Nexus and I just finished The Case Study of Vanitas, which I absolutely loved—a beautiful show.
* Responses were condensed and edited for clarity.