The Girl of a Thousand Masks

June 29, 2008 at 3:34 pm | Posted in Seiyuu | Leave a comment

I suppose this will count as an informal, largely biased, character-centric seiyuu spotlight XD.

For those of you who have watched Glass Mask (2005 remake), the post title is a reference to the protagonist Kitajima Maya, whose seiyuu I am going to rant about. For someone to be cast as a character whose specialty is her acting talent should already say something about this woman.

But it’s not her Maya that intrigues me the most. It’s a more well-known, rapidly-becoming-mainstream part. It’s a character that’s just as 3-dimensional and multifaceted, if not more. A character that risks becoming clichéd, but avoids that through the sheer skill of the voice behind him. The title of this post would probably be more accurately titled “the young shounen protagonist of a thousand masks.”

I am talking about Kobayashi Sanae and her role as Allen Walker in D.Gray-man.



Big shoes to fill…

Awhile back, a friend and I were discussing whether we felt each seiyuu in D.Gray-man fit their parts. When we came to the main protagonist, the friend believed that Paku Romi was more suited for the role – I could see where that came from. From Ed Elric of FMA to Tao Ren of Shaman King and a multitude of other roles, Paku can be considered the Kawasumi Ayako of young males – meaning, she can play any personality type. With D.Gray-man rapidly gaining popularity (even in the Western world), one would wonder how Kobayashi Sanae would live up to her “predecessor.”

Taking the plunge

Having never read the D.Gray-man manga before watching the anime, I never really had a fixed image of Allen’s voice in my head. My first impression was that he sounded a bit too high-pitched and out of place with the dark mood. There were so many awkward spots in Sanae’s acting in the first few episodes. I felt like Sanae was struggling to locate Allen’s voice pitch and personality.

In a sense, Allen is a debut for Sanae. She’s done male voices before, but getting pushed into the spotlight is quite a lot of pressure. Furthermore, Allen deviates a bit from the ‘typical shounen protagonist’ image. While he still has the idea that he can save the world and fulfills the “sad past” requirement, it’s his more level-headed optimism and lack of brashness that sets him apart. Instead of being the type of character that thinks he knows everything and gets reality beaten into him, he has a gloomy sense of reality from early on but does all he can to change it anyways. He has a maturity and determination well beyond his 15 years, and while he is sometimes hindered by his naivete, he still continues to walk on, through the frightening unknown before him.

But, enough about the character. To portray all this would take a toll on any seiyuu. However, I wouldn’t have actually noticed all these aspects of Allen if it were not for Sanae. So how did her journey start? At very best, her first times in the role were average. But that was just the beginning…

Making the role truly hers

Sanae’s acting felt more and more natural around the Krory arc (episodes 19-23) but it was the Asia Branch arc (episodes 58-70) that sealed the deal for me. Action-wise, the plot dragged, but the whole time was a mental journey for Allen. Sanae really got into it, from the moodier moments of despair to the anger to the confusion to the hope the character faced. All of this culminated in an epiphany in episode 70, which was one of the most memorable moments of the series. To take some lines that would ordinarily sound corny (go watch the episode, I’m not giving any spoilers here) and successfully convey the emotional struggle behind it and the answer that was finally achieved…well, at that moment, Sanae earned my full respect.

That’s not to say that she can’t lighten up when she has to. I couldn’t help but grin like an idiot later while watching episode 80, when Allen gave a monologue about how horrible it was to have to buy liquor for General Cross. Sanae literally went crazy behind the mic, alternating from normal to fake-depressed to hyper to (exaggerated) fear…all in one monologue. I had to tip my hat to Sanae also in subsequent episodes since the changes in voice register and vocal control were excellent. It’s always a delight to see Allen’s “evil” side.

The anime as of now has moved back into a more serious tone, and Sanae makes the shift with ease. It’s truly been a pleasure watching (listening) to her grow into the role more and more. Kobayashi Sanae is a real life Kitajima Maya, playing her part with fresh energy and originality.


Sanae (right) pictured here with Itou Shizuka, the voice of Lenalee.

In conclusion…why do I love her so much?

In general, as a seiyuu, Sanae’s still rather second-tier to the likes of Kawasumi Ayako, Paku Romi, and the other legends, but I’m pretty sure that will change someday. Her voice in general is very easy on the ears – versatile but with a distinct edge to it so fans would recognize it, and with a more honest, raw feel…unlike some overshot fake-sounded forced-moe seiyuu. I admit that sometimes she still sounds a bit awkward, but not in the bad-acting sense. It’s as if she can convey just the right degree of awkwardness so the character comes out human. Audiences like something they can relate to.

D.Gray-man mangaka Hoshino once commented (after sitting in on a recording session of the anime) – “Kobayashi-san, who played Allen, was able to capture the awkwardness of a young man and at the same time convey his hatred and sadness. Now I know why fans fall in love with certain voices.” And it’s not just Allen – her Maya really touched my heart because of the painstaking way the character pursued her own dreams. Glass Mask’s Maya was very much like Kaleido Star’s Sora, but was much more real and easier to empathize with.

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