Louisiana and New York are as different as night and day. Relocating to Lafayette, Louisiana has been like moving to a different country. The food is different, the language is different, even the smells and the feel of the air is different. The culture shock of attending New York’s finest events to hearing about crawfish boil was enough to send me packing within the first month. But when I stepped into LouisiANIME this weekend, it genuinely felt like coming home. I walked around the exhibition floor with a ridiculous grin on my face. I drifted off into happy memories of playing video games with my brothers and watching anime all night long. The ambiance of the event was enhanced as a guitarist strolled from room to room, playing songs from animes and video games, including an impressive improv performance of Zelda’s Main Theme.
The Exhibition Floor had several booths that were genuinely unique. One of them was an art display, created by Casey Ferrari Meehan, a tattoo artist with an incredible talent in painting. A personal favorite that I witnessed was of Batman. Behind his grim expression, Arkham City loomed in a dizzying swirl of green, blue and black. Meehan explained that a majority of his paintings had “Easter Eggs” hidden in the myriad of colors. One painting in particular of Goku, from Dragonball Z, had seven hidden Dragonball Z symbols and no one has found them all to this day.
Another booth that was popular for all the bleeding heart fangirls was the pin-up pillowcase booth. This booth featured steamy art of popular characters such as: Levi, from Attack on Titan, Sephiroth, from Final Fantasy VII, Dean Winchester and Castiel from Supernatural, and Renji, from Bleach. (Sorry, Eric Cherry, no pin ups of any titans. Room for improvement.)
Now unless you are a die-hard anime fan or someone who does their research, the names I’m going to list may be unfamiliar, but here they are: Josh Grelle, Clifford Chapin, Felecia Angelle, Greg Ayres and Eric Cherry. Look them up. Pull up Wiki or Google their names. Your jaw will drop when you realize that you do know them, you’ve heard their voices and that they have been in just about everything. Then after you pick your jaw back up off the floor, go re-watch some of those episodes. Watch Kaoru Hitachin’s pumpkin theory in Ouran High School Host Club. Listen to Armin Arlert scream in Attack on Titan as Eren’s arm limply drops from between a titan’s bloody teeth. Then you will know that these people have influenced the world of anime in a way you had never realized.
Meeting these iconic voice actors was an incredible honor and privately interviewing them was like spending time with new friends. There was a casual, friendly ambiance to the green room as Grelle, Chapin, Angelle, Ayres and Cherry recalled their past experiences as voice actors. First, everyone discussed what shows had gotten them hooked on anime before they began their acting careers. Ayres had a taste for the more classic animes. He had seen Akira in theaters (of which I’m completely jealous) and added that he enjoyed GTO and Initial D. Cherry also really liked GTO and Initial D, as well as Naruto and Hajima no Ippo. Angelle said that she had preferred Gundam Wing, Slayers and Pokémon. However, Chapin was not an avid anime fan before he began voice acting. He liked cartoons as a kid though, such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Beast Wars. When Chapin began watching anime, he really enjoyed Evangelion. As we remembered our favorite animes together, Chapin mentioned that anime and Japanese media has been subtlety becoming more prominent in our culture. Angelle added some examples such as Power Rangers and My Neighbor Totoro. Grelle jumped in and mentioned a Christian animation series called Super Book. He laughed and said that he and his brother would have to watch it when they were too sick to go to church or whenever they didn’t feel like going. He added that this was a prime example of anime being used in western culture. Other than his Super Book example, he said that his favorite anime are Slayers, Outlaw Star, Dirty Pair, Gatchaman, Excel Saga and Orphen.
Cosplaying is a dynamic hobby for many anime, comic and book series fans. (Who doesn’t appreciate a good Game of Thrones cosplay?) So who can’t help but wonder if these iconic actors have ever physically taken on their characters’ personas? And if not their own character, if they would cosplay as someone else? Surprisingly, Grelle and Chapin were the only ones who have never cosplayed. Yet when I asked them if they ever would consider cosplaying, they both were kind enough to entertain the idea. “I would (cosplay) with a mask,” Grelle contemplated, “or be someone with a beard,” he added, gesturing to his own full beard. “I wouldn’t try Connie (from Attack on Titan), with the buzzed haircut. In fact, his hair is more of a grey fuzz,” Chapin laughed, “But I would maybe try a character from the Survey Crops with the full gear and jump on a trampoline to get a good picture.” Cherry, however, said that he has cosplayed in the past, pulling off Shino from Naruto. He added that he wouldn’t mind cosplaying as his character, Max from Fairy Tail, or, he added with one of his contagious laughs, Guard A. Ayres didn’t miss a beat and said he has cosplayed twice. The first time was as Chrono from Chrono Crusade. He explained that there was a girl in a cosplaying competition dressed as Rosette and she was nervous to go up on stage alone. So Ayres, being a genuinely good person, got up and joined her in his Chrono costume. He also had a friend that made him an incredible 35 pound cosplay of his character from Peacemaker. This particular friend was physically handicapped and channeled his time and marvelous talent into creating the elaborate costume. Other than those instances, Ayres said he doesn’t typically like to cosplay as his own characters. “It seems hammy to me to dress as one of my own characters,” Ayres explained. “Funimation had the cast of Ouran High School Host Club dress as our characters. I dye my hair all the time so they asked if I’d be willing to dye my hair red. If you look at the pictures, Caitlin (voice actress for Haruki Fujioka) and I look completely miserable,” Ayres laughed. At last with our attention turned to Angelle, she proceeded to tell us the most adorable love story about cosplaying and how it brought her and her husband together. Angelle grew up here, where LouisiANIME was being held, in Lafayette, Louisiana. She and her husband had been in the same English class together in school, but they hadn’t really talked. When she went over to New Orleans to MechaCon, she cosplayed as Reno for Final Fantasy VII while her other friend was Hojo. While she was there, Angelle came across her future hubby and he recognized her despite the cosplay. (Ah, l’amour.)
Earlier I had mentioned Attack on Titan and Armin’s devastating scream as he sees his best friend swallowed by a titan. One can’t help but wonder what kind of energy the actor has to use to convey such raw emotion. Ayres said it can be good to vent and get that frustration out of his system. He explained that there can be times that the content can mess with his head. For example, his character in Bond gave a devastating speech about how much he hated humanity, just before committing suicide. The final line of his tirade being, “I at least had one friend.” Greg admitted that he had a take a moment to breathe before driving home that day. Another time that Ayres exhibited amazing vocal talent was in SoltyRei. Ayres had succeeded in making a wet, burping retching noise that had made his director’s stomach churn. Apparently, someone had run into the recording studio to ensure that it was, in fact, just a sound effect. (Bahaha!) Chapin joined in the puke talk and demonstrated a very convincing cat puke effect that had all of us doubled over laughing. (We’re mature like that.) After the laughter had died down, Chapin recalled his own experiences as he recorded World Break. “When I’m under a lot of stress, scenes of rage tend to come easier,” Chapin insightfully added.
I was shocked to learn that the voice actors only receive their scripts on a daily basis, so when their character dies, it is as much of a surprise for them as it is for us as viewers. Before recording his final episode of Tokyo Ghoul, someone had spoiled the surprise and told Chapin of his characters death. Chapin’s character, Hide, dies in front of his best friend. His best friend tries telling him that he’ll be alright, but Hide replies, “No, I’m not.” Chapin admitted that he had gotten choked up reading those last words. (You’re not alone, Chapin.) Angelle had a similar experience while recording Rolling Girls as the character Nozomi Moritomo. She loved that character and said she really identified with her. In Rolling Girls, there is a character called Maccha Green. This character in disguise is seen as an idol and everyone admired her. In a heart wrenching finale (with Chapin directing her for the scene), Nozomi’s friend, Chiaya Misono, voiced by Leah Clark, tells her “You were MY Maccha Green.” Angelle immediately teared up in the booth. “It felt intentionally mean!” Angelle said as Chapin laughed. Chapin recalled that he had burst out laughing after recording that line because he was also trying not to cry.
Cherry had a strong attachment to one of his characters as well. He had done several additional voices in the past, so when he was given the role of Kamioka in Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple, he was thrilled. However, one day he walked in, read the script and saw that his character was going to be beaten to death that day. “I can’t say I identified most with Kamioka, but he held a special place for being my first actual character. He busted my cherry if you will,” Cherry winked. Grelle discussed his recording experience as Armin Arlert from Attack on Titan. “Armin’s big speech that everyone talks about is him finally stepping forward and doing what he had in him all along. What got me was the small scenes adding up to it. He would repeatedly berate himself and tell himself he was worthless up to that point,” Grelle said. “When he screamed after Eren was swallowed, he was screaming not just because Eren was gone, but also because of all those insecurities. Be blamed himself for Eren’s death.” As a final shout out to his fans, Cherry said, “As for any anime fans, just let them know that I am a fan as well. If they see me at a con or something, feel free to just come up and shoot the breeze with me.”
LouisiANIME was more than a bunch of kids (and adults) getting together to geek out. In many ways, it was a safe place to talk about something they’re passionate about, without fearing any mockery or scorn. As I stood at the front of dance floor, looking out at those people dancing, I couldn’t help but feel an incredible surge of gratitude towards the staff and voice actors for making such a safe haven possible. In the autograph line, I saw a fan’s face light up when he heard Greg Ayres and Josh Grelle speak. He had never met Ayres or Grelle personally, but their voices were familiar and belonged to someone (or many people) that he considered a friend. LouisiANIME was an escape and a place to forget the difficulties of everyday life. I hope you can come and run away with us next year. We’ll see you then.