I had an exciting opportunity on August 24th to take part in a teleconference with voice actor and live performer Joshua Seth. Joshua is the English voice actor for Tai Kamiya from the original Digimon Adventure series and the new Digimon Adventure Tri movies. Joshua left voice acting back in 2005 and has done live work as a mentalist. Of course what brought him back to voice acting was the opportunity to reprise his role as Tai for the ongoing Digimon movies.
I will fully admit to having been a Digimon fan since I was a kid. Growing up watching the dub on TV and while there are criticisms one can make of the dub…it’s still the version I most prefer going back to watch. So when Anime-Evo had the chance to take part in this event and ask a question or two, I was happy to get involved in that. For that purpose I’m going to post my own transcript from the teleconference. I think it is a nice chance to get some insights and simply a different perspective. Joshua is admittedly not someone deeply involved in anime, but rather tackles this character from the point of view of a voice actor. As someone who has watched every Digimon series out there I found it to be interesting and maybe a bit surprising just to see how someone with a different viewpoint sees both “Tai” as a character and coming back to voice him. This of course contains questions not only from myself, but from various sites and magazines. I hope everyone finds it interesting.
How did you approach Tai in Tri? Obviously he’s older so how did you approach voicing the character and how was it different than how you would have back then?
I think the key to the way that I voiced him now was to consider that he’s wiser beyond his years because of his life experiences. And I discussed this with the production team, should I make him sound older…My normal voice is not that far off from Tai. “I just pitch it up a little bit” (in Tai’s voice), but it’s still me…Should I sound older, should I just leave my voice as it naturally is and we decided no we should stay true to the original vocal characterization of Tai. So when it comes out you’ll notice the sounds of Tai is fairly similar.
The main difference is I made the expression, his expressions more thoughtful. That wasn’t just me that was in the text as well. The way his character has evolved. He ponders the larger meaning of whether what they are doing is actually beneficial, actually changing things. Grappling with larger issues from a more mature perspective. So that’s really what changed.
What would you say is the appeal of voice acting as opposed to your other creative pursuits?
Here’s the appeal of voice acting. It’s so pure, such a pure creative emotional expression. Because you take all your communicative skillsets as a performer and then channel them through this one mode of expression, which is your voice. So in say on camera acting you can use your body, your body language, your whole being, your whole instrument as it were. And I’ve always found voice acting to be such a pure form of creative expression because you can’t do that…You have to find a way to communicate your heart and soul with your hands tied behind your back.
And I always think that some restriction and limitations make creative people better. If you have unlimited time and resources you are unlikely to create much of anything, just lie around on the beach. But if you say “hey you’ve got six weeks to live and one shot to do something to leave behind, to make a mark on the world” then you will be damn sure you will create something So in a small way voice acting is like that, it restricts you so much that you have to really bring everything to bear to make it not sound hackneyed or stilted or flat or derivative of other people’s performances. So I like the opportunity to be able to rise from that challenge.
What are your thoughts on how the franchise has evolved?
I’m very happy it has evolved. Back when Digimon first came out there wasn’t online streaming, there wasn’t Netflix. We all kind of thought it was one and done. It would air on Saturday mornings, I remember recording the video game and the movie. And that was the trajectory as far as anyone knew. It would come out on DVD or maybe video…actually would have been video cassette back then. And then it’s over. But because of the internet it was given new life, new audiences, people watched it for the nostalgic reasons. Reconnect with their childhood.
I hear this all the time, people come to me after my live shows all the time and say “dude you were the voice of my childhood.” So I know they are watching it for the nostalgia, but I think there is a whole new generation of kids who have turned on to Digimon because they’ve been able to stream it online, watch it on Netflix or the DVDs. And even more so now that there is more products being produced and the franchise I hope will continue to evolve.
See what’s happening with Pokemon Go. Why shouldn’t Digimon come back into the broader public consciousness in the same way? Carving out its own space. These old shows don’t need to die anymore, they can find new audiences and new formats. It is great.
With how long the franchise has gone on, did you ever think they actually come back to the original cast to tell one more story?
I think probably they almost didn’t come back to the original cast and I’ve got the fans to thank for that. I wouldn’t have even known this was happening if it weren’t for people letting me know on Facebook and Twitter…I literally would not have known because I’m not in that world, I’m in the live performing and touring world right now and I definitely have the fans to thank for getting reconnected with this project and the producers were very on-board with seeing that happen. And it gives more integrity to it as well. Digimon isn’t just about the storyline or the animation it is also now those iconic voices that gave life to those characters. So a bunch of us come back I think can only make the project better.
One of the most important parts of the movie is how we’ve seen not just Tai but all of the characters grown up and we also see Tai a little more hesitant. How was that…going into a character who originally was so eager to jump in and now was a little more reserved?
Well I loved it as an actor. There’s only so many ways you can “come on guys let’s save the world!” But the full depth and breadth of the human experience and emotion is more interesting as an actor. So the fact that he’s gotten a bit older, a little more reserved, pensive, a little more introspective. I think it makes him a more interesting character, as it would for with a human being. As a person we start out wide-eyed innocent gung ho “let’s go play”. And then over time we get life experiences and they color our perceptions of the world and our interactions with other people that make us more complex human beings and more interesting.
There was a market change after…the fourth season and now it’s coming across as more of a kid’s property in a way that Digimon in its earlier days didn’t feel to me. It always felt like a bit of a mature series. I’m curious about your own interpretation of this anime sort of packaged as this kid’s Pokemon-esque marketing project versus your own interpretation of the series?
If you are referring to the Tri movie, I didn’t see that as being regressive in terms of the age of the audience it will appeal to. I think it has a more mature feel to it actually than even the original series. Now if you are referring to the marketing well that’s something different and Hollywood has woken up to the fact that the market for children’s programming is one of the biggest markets that there is. Because they are insatiable these kids, they watch so much media. So of course they are going to want to pull that market in to any kind of anime or any kind of property for whom it is relevant. But I don’t feel Digimon pulled any punches in order to accommodate younger viewers. I just think that market wise that is where the money is.
How did it feel getting back together with the original gang members…and working again on Digimon after all these years? Can we expect you back for the rest of Digimon Adventure Tri English releases?
It felt great. There is even more names than you guys know about because there are so many important people behind the scenes like Jamie and Rita…and the whole team. It was wild…especially because I’m not in LA anymore. I don’t live in Hollywood anymore! So a lot of these people they still see each other, they still bump into each other during auditions, I don’t. I’m going to be in six different states in the next seven days doing live shows and none of them are California. So, each time I see somebody it was like “holy crap you look different but you sound the same!” That’s the funny thing about voice acting, we age like everybody else. But because we are so vocally expressive, it really feels like the same person, it sounds like the same person, even if you haven’t connected with them in years. It was a real special feeling….It was nice to reconnect with those old friendships and see that they are as strong as ever.
And for the follow-up. I guess it remains to be seen, it’s not entirely up to me in terms of my continued involvement….I had a blast recording this and as always I remain open to portray Tai and come back and do the whole thing again.
Obviously fans have been able to do outreach to you over social media platforms.How beneficial or useful do you think in this day and age of the internet [is social media] for gauging the public interest in the franchise before taking the proverbial plunge?
It’s a double-edged sword….The positive cutting edge of the sword of social media is that it levels the playing field. It gives fans access to actors in a way that previously they never had. And that can also give performers access to their insights, feedback, information that I never would have gotten otherwise. The negative side is when studios make decisions based too much on it. Based too much on “oh something got an initial negative fan reaction on twitter” and they are going to kill a project. Instead of giving it a chance to breathe and room to evolve and a chance to grow wings and take flight. Something will happen online and they take that out of proportions…because it is too easy to do so. It’s like poll numbers…putting too much faith in poll numbers. They tell a snapshot, they don’t tell the whole story.
And initially I think the negative side of all that social media is that it can become a time vampire and people can get sucked into that…digital world an alternative world and think that is the real world when the real world is away from your screen with other people, with the actual projects and interactions you have in real life. In proper balance social media can be a wonderful tool, but with too much time and attention, it becomes a time vampire. In fact I wrote about that extensively in my book “Finding Focus in a Busy World” and how people have given too much importance to social media to the detriment of their professional pursuits, creative projects, and personal relationships as well as work/life balance. You got to keep the whole thing in balance.
From what I’ve seen of the trailer the Tri dub will also use some new music for this…So I’m curious what your thoughts are as to keeping Tri with the spirit of the original dub with new music and the different names in comparison to how it is in Japanese.
Since I haven’t seen the Japanese, when I first heard the new music “hey where is the theme song?”…But the more time I spent with the project the more I liked the new music…everything about it has evolved. The characters have evolved, situations have evolved, we the audience has evolved, the world has changed and by changing the music it is kind of…the show starts, the music is different, the characters are older and you know that something new is about to happen. So actually I ended up really liking it and feeling it was the right choice.
Would you be open to doing any non-Digimon voice projects in the future?
If you had asked me that a year ago I would have had a hard time saying yes. Because I’m having so much fun with my other projects and touring and everything. But, it was so surprising to me that going back into a recording studio felt like I had never left. And I remember walking out of the studio being all charged up and feeling great. Like this is a thing that I like to do and people seem to think I’m good at and it’s almost feels like a shame not to do it. That’s basically how I felt walking out of the Digimon sessions. It seems like someone gave me a really nice piece of cake so why should I just leave it on the shelf to get stale and uneaten? You got to eat the piece of cake.
That’s how I felt going out of the studio…I have this skill, people want me to use it, why the hell aren’t I doing it? So I’m a lot more open to it now. Now the logistics to getting back to LA to do the particular project, that is a little more complicated than you would think. These show tours are very complicated, flying in and out of cities everyday…it’s just a logistical thing. So if the right project came along with the right offer and I was able to work it into the touring schedule in the right way, like say if I was going back to LA to record more Digimon and there was another project I could do while I was out there, I’d be really down for that. And the only thing really stopping me at this point is the fact that you don’t have the ability to walk into a calendar and press a button and evaporate and reappear on the other side of the country a second later….they invent that and I’ll be back in a big way.
How do you feel about Tai’s character development shown in the first Digimon Adventure Tri movie? Him not wanting to put public at risk with battles in the real world and bumping heads with Matt?
Well not wanting to put public at risk in the real world, that’s the core of his character. That and wanting his action and attack the problem. And that’s why he’s a hero, because he does those two things. He’s willing to take action and put himself at risk in order to save others and at the same time is not foolhardy about it. He’s not willing to be destructive, not willing to put others at risk. So yeah even though he’s evolved as a character that’s the core of who he is and that remains the same.
This is the first Digimon movie to [come out in theaters in NA] since the first and only Digimon movie that made it out here in theaters and I’m curious about your understanding of the factors that have culminated to this theatrical release?
I was very surprised to hear that. Even while recording I was unaware that it was going to be released theatrically. When I found out, I was like “well that’s the best way to experience this right?” You’re not sitting alone in your room watching it on your computer, you are out there. I hope fans will get dressed up and have parties and make a big event out of it. Because I can guarantee you if they do that then there will be more of these. It’s a great way to relaunch this franchise, because it gives people a way to celebrate.
And that was the interview. I did find the whole experience to be worthwhile. A good reminder that there are various points of view and certainly as a writer for this site I have a different one from someone like Joshua. He is traveling and has an entire career separate from his voice work. Coming back for Digimon was mostly thanks to schedules working out and also thanks to fans of the franchise who reached out. There is a real power to the fanbase being able to get the attention of these voice actors to let them know this kind of project exists and that they would be happy to have these people back.
Their voices really did define the voice of these characters for people. It’s the same for any animated series in that sense. Certain voices are intrinsically connected to their respective characters after you’ve gone years with that connection. Recasting of voices can be really awkward and there have been shows I’ve just struggled to get into because the character didn’t sound right anymore.
I’m happy to have had that opportunity to take part in that teleconference. A kind of cool moment in general just being able to talk to and ask a few questions to someone who voiced a character that really did help me get into anime in general. Digimon wasn’t the only series that got me into anime, but it was one of the first shows I remember seeing.
And I do agree with some points that social media can be a good and bad thing. It does allow us to interact so much more and discuss the things we like. But people can also get really negative with it and things can spiral out of control. It may have killed some projects because those in charge take a few voices as representing the whole.
Although on the other hand I don’t see a real problem with careers or hobbies that involve a lot of time on the computer XD. If I did then blogging shows sure would be a lot more difficult. The internet and social media allows people to build bonds, friendships, and connections that otherwise would be lost to distance. In that sense I think the strength of it is valuable. Like with anything it depends on how people make use of it.
Anyways, I thought it would be a great thing to get this teleconference out there. With the dub version of the first Digimon Adventure Tri movie hitting theaters Thursday September 15th, the timing seemed right. No theaters near where I am are showing it, but hopefully others can make it and show that the Digimon fanbase is alive and well.
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