BokuMachi piqued my interest before it aired because the two actors playing the protagonist’s character, Shinnosuke Mitsushima and Tao Tsuchiya (shown above), are live action actors who have never had an anime role before. Normally, haiyuu (actors) and seiyuu (voice actors) occupy separate niches, despite the crossover in their skill sets. While it’s not unheard of for a seiyuu to have live action roles or for haiyuu to have anime roles, it’s still uncommon enough to be worthy of attention. Thus, I was extra curious to see how the BokuMachi anime would turn out, as I had the feeling that it would be a very off-beat and distinctive work.
It was immediately clear from watching the first episode why the director Tomohiko Ito cast Mitsushima as the 29-year-old Satoru. The episode was carried heavily by internal monologues and was accompanied by very deliberate visual choices that emphasised the character’s isolation. Satoru was often depicted in shadow, or otherwise cut off from other people. When his editor tells him that people can’t see his face through his manga, the scene cuts to a partially obscured view of Satoru’s face, his eyes hidden behind his glasses.
These choices draw attention to the sound of Satoru’s voice, because visually he gives little about himself away. But Mitsushima keeps his voice subdued, making Satoru seem more like a real person onscreen than an animated character – and this must have been precisely the effect Ito was going for. Mitsushima remarked in an interview that the drawings he was exposed to in the recording sessions filled him with an extraordinary feeling that he could be his raw self with no frills attached (“なにも色付けしてない素っ裸の自分”). Perhaps in some cases, animation can inspire more realism than film because of the absence of a prying camera.
Episode 2 shifts the focus of the story to Satoru’s 10-year-old self, voiced by Tao Tsuchiya. Satoru still has his adult memories, so his character poses a lot challenges for an actor. Mitsushima narrates Satoru’s thoughts, but something about his adult self-awareness must still be conveyed by his interactions with others as a child. He may have a child’s larynx, but not a child’s soul.
If there’s one thing that strikes me about Tsuchiya’s performance, it’s that it sounds somewhat unrefined, a little rough around the edges. It feels as if she had difficulty carving out a voice for herself. She was evidently under much more pressure than Mitsushima, not only because she plays a greater role in the anime, but also because she can’t act as herself in front of the mic. She must deliberately put on a voice that is not hers. Tsuchiya has never played a young boy’s role before, and it shows.
Yet considering her inexperience, she does an incredible job sounding like a vulnerable boy who is wise beyond his years. The cautiousness in her voice links her performance to that of Mitsushima’s, affirming to the audience that the two voices belong to the same person. If there’s one thing Tsuchiya doesn’t sound like, it’s a plucky Shonen Jump protagonist. (Amusingly, Ito said he rejected numerous seiyuu for the role because they sounded too Shonen Jump-y.)
Of course, neither Mitsushima nor Tsuchiya could have succeeded as well as they have without a cast of veteran seiyuu to support them. Voice acting is a specialised art that requires particular attention to breathing and projecting one’s voice. A cast of non-seiyuu would have faltered from their lack of experience, regardless of how fitting their voices were.
In BokuMachi, we have the veteran actress Aoi Yuuki playing the main heroine Kayo. She’s as impeccable as ever, in spite of her limited number of scenes so far. Special mention must also go to Chinatsu Akasaki, who shone as the peppy Katagiri. Most experienced seiyuu can do down-to-earth roles when they want to, which they did here. To their credit, they never took the spotlight away from the protagonist and his introspection.
Overall, there are many reasons why BokuMachi is a great anime to watch: the detailed character animation, the confident visual and sound direction, the gripping plot. The voice acting is a nice touch that demonstrates the staff’s willingness to get all those little details right. It’s easy to miss the subtle nuances at first glance, but if you found yourself engrossed in the atmosphere, then the voice actors did their job right.
To finish off this post, here are the messages Tsuchiya, Mitsushima and Ito released last month, translated by yours truly:
When I finished reading the original manga, I was completely shaken. The darkness residing in people’s hearts is so deep and heavy. Yet in the midst of that darkness I could feel a gentle light flickering desperately. It had a warm, nostalgic touch. Many of the things depicted in this story are sad and cruel and can never be forgiven. But that’s also the reason why I want to face it sincerely and capture it honestly through my acting.
In my opinion, an anime voice-acting role is a weighty responsibility. Although I’m happy, I’m incredibly nervous at the same time. Try as I might to catch up to Satoru in the 2D world, he remains so far out of my grasp, and that leaves me agitated. Nevertheless, as I endeavour to learn all the necessary techniques, I want to be like Satoru and take every hardship stoically without ever giving up.
Frankly, when I received the offer, I was happy. I have a lot of interest in the voice-acting world, so I’m very excited. When I read the manga, I was surprised at the extent to which Sanbe-sensei was able to spin such a suspenseful narrative filled with so much heart about a run-of-the-mill boy protagonist. “If I had made a different choice that day, I wonder how my life would have turned out,” is something that everyone has felt before, but it drives his every action. It’s the kind of work that catches you unawares in your daily routine and makes you reminisce about the past.
With the help of the wonderful staff and every fellow voice actor, I’d like to create a work of art that touches everyone’s hearts.
The role of Satoru Fujinuma is not that of a hero but that of someone who escapes. I looked for people who could fulfill that role and came upon two names.
I couldn’t feel much anger from Tsuchiya-san even when she strained her voice, and I thought that part of her was very much like Satoru. It was the sort of performance that evoked a defeatist attitude. I also think that she had a good balance when it came to sounding like a child. As for Mitsushima-san, he’s done a lot of narration and commercials along with his wide breadth of acting roles, such as his live-action films and so on. Satoru is a character who performs a lot of monologues, you see. I’ll consider it a big success if people can connect Satoru’s growth as a character with what the two actors came up with in the recording sessions. I’m looking forward to the payoff.