To celebrate the DVD/Blu-ray release of Digimon Adventure Tri.- Reunion we got the chance to interview voice actor Joshua Seth, who voices the main character, Tai Kamiya. The DVD/Blu-ray is available May 16 for all anime and Digimon fans!
How did you get into voice acting and, in particular, for the Digimon series?
That is a great question. Let me see how far back I want to go. Well, when I was a kid growing up in the Midwest in a small town in Ohio my father was and is a psychologist and built his practice on the radio. He had a radio psychology show in the afternoons and sometimes I would go and sit in while he was recording them so recording studios were very normal for me. Then I got to college and went to the TISH School for the Arts and New York University.
And then I’m from a small town in a big city and suddenly everything is strange and different except for the radio station at WNYU. That felt very familiar to me so I got myself a radio show there and started messing around calling myself, pretending to call-in and request things with different voices – Jonathan Winters style, doing different characters – and I ended up putting together a demo from my radio show in college and got an agent out in Hollywood, moved out to Los Angeles and started my voice acting career. That was basically the progression of it.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a voice acting career?
My first advice is the same advice for starting any career which is know thyself. Know who you are. Have your own voice otherwise all you are doing is a pale imitation of what others have done before you. So, get some life experience whether that be through introspection or travel or conversations with others whatever. Have your own sense of self in place before you attempt to inhabit others.
And then the best practice I think is reading books out loud. Like I read every single Harry Potter book out loud twice. Doing all the vocal characterizations because those are well drawn characters. In fact, when the books first came out I was still in Los Angeles auditioning for roles and if let’s say there was a middle school bully I would then think to myself “Ok, that would be like Snape but younger and without the accent and sort of a lumbering quality if it was drawn that way.” I would have a very well-drawn fully fleshed out character in the back of my mind on which to draw but then I would vocally characterize it completely differently that way nobody would know the source material. That’s a great way to start.
It kind of gives you a starting point of these different archetypes and then you build off them.
Exactly because I’ve heard it said “Oh just draw on your life experiences and approximate the voices of friends and family, people that you know.” The problem with that is a lot of the interesting vocal characterizations are absent from our lives now because our accents and modes of expressions have for the most part been flattened out since we all watch the same TV shows, consume the same media and seem to speak in a similar pace and style. Now if you travel overseas and hear people with accents and people informed by different life experiences that can be helpful. But for most of us the distinctions between the way we speak and express ourselves are not that pronounced, so it is better to go to plays and literature and to your own imagination.
Oh, and the other advice I’d give is to physically move yourself to where the work is. It’s very hard to be successful voice actor if you are living in your case in Utah unless there is a studio near you. You can do things online but it is very limited. It’s still a relationship-based business and it does come down a little bit to who you know and your connections.
What are the challenges to dubbing verses other voice acting?
In a way dubbing is more challenging because your creative outlet is restricted due to time and the fact it was already animated ahead of time. I remember when I was voicing on the SpongeBob SquarePants Movie I was in an isolation booth recording but I could see the other actors on either side of me in their own isolation booths on their own mikes. And I could pick up from their vocal expressions, facial expressions, gestures, body language how I wanted to respond with my own lines.
So, if Jeffrey Tambor was in that scene with me was playing everything very dry and deadpan, stoic then I could make the choice to move in counterpoint to that with a lot of energy and sort of a frenetic enthusiasm. Whereas, when you are doing dubbing work you are typically voicing in isolation from the rest of the cast. Actually you are always in isolation from the rest of the cast. So, you have to take it on faith from the director that a certain pace, tone, temperament, emotion is the appropriate way give life to that voice.
What were your favorite moments of the original series for Digimon?
Yeah, it would be the movie. It would be the original movie because we had a lot more time to have discussions about how we wanted to play a particular scene and had more opportunities to get it right. The difference between doing the Digimon series which was done very quickly and the movie that was just done very thoughtfully was pronounced.
What do you think about the darker tone of the new movies compared to the original TV show?
I like it, I think it is an appropriate progression for the character since they’ve grown up and since the audience has grown up, I think it is appropriate and exciting way to portray where everybody is at now.
I don’t think, however, it is the best place to come into the series. If you were going to introduce someone to Digimon for the first time I would say have them watch the original movie or episode 1 of season 1. But for those fans have grown up with and are watching for nostalgic reasons I like what they have done with it with this more mature, darker, tone. Because we’re not kids ourselves any more so why treat it like a kid show?
Are you surprised Digimon is still popular over 15 years later?
Yeah, definitely ,because when we first started recording it there was no social media. There was no YouTube. No Netflix. No iPhones. So, nobody thought that animated properties were going to have a life beyond just being put out on DVD someday.
We all knew when we were working on it that it was something special and it was so popular on television when it came out that we knew it had a large fan base. But no, I don’t think any of us anticipated we’d still be working on it 15 years later, but I am thrilled that we are. It’s the way we are maintaining an artistic legacy that wasn’t available in years past. It used to be when you finished a series everybody moved on and went their separate ways. Now we have this opportunity to reconnect with each other and with the work and with the fans.
What do you think about Digimon has connected with American audiences vs Japanese? What themes and ideas?
Yeah, not being in Japan I don’t know the extent to which it has resonated over there but I can tell you this: I make appearances at ComiCons all over the world. I did one just last year in Australia and the fanbase is huge there so it has resonated throughout the English-speaking world at any rate.
What do you think are the themes of the show that have particularly resonated with people?
Friendship, loyalty in the case of Tai, behaving courageously and of course the timeless one of saving the world. That’s always desirable.
I really appreciate you giving some of your time. Rotoscopers will be very interested in hearing about all this.
Edited by: Kajsa Rain Forden.