Morikawa Toshiyuki visited the U.S. for the first time when he attended LA Anime Expo in 2009. This year, the seiyuu (voice actor) hosted a panel, during which he discussed various topics such as the earthquake in Japan, his newly founded company Axl One, his band Black Velvet and his goal to start a voice acting academy in the future.
During his 25 years of being in the seiyuu industry, Morikawa Toshiyuki gave voices to a large number of characters in many famous anime, video games and drama CDs. His most well-known roles include Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII, Kurosaki Isshin (Ichigo's father) from Bleach, Namikaze Minato (Naruto's father) from Naruto, Ichinose Takumo from NANA, Enel from One Piece, and many more. In addition to his anime works, Morikawa has also dubbed live-action films for many famous Hollywood stars such as Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Keanu Reeves.
The panel discussion was hosted on the second day of Anime Expo 2011. Accompanied by a host and an interpreter, Morikawa interacted closely with fans and took many questions from the audience. Frequently making jokes and laughing out loud, the seiyuu diminished the barrier between him and the American fans with his charismatic personality. As he expressed during the panel, he felt very comfortable with the American audience, as he found Americans are very open and enthusiastic, while Japanese fans are more shy and reserved. In that way, he felt much closer to the U.S. audience.
Morikawa started out by expressing his appreciation towards the American people who supported Japan after the big earthquake that happened on March 11.
"I was in Tokyo when the earthquake happened," he said, "and afterwards, I went to the part of Japan where the earthquake hit the hardest. I had a chance to talk to some of the victims, and they are very grateful for the support you've given them."
The seiyuu is also heavily involved in charity work himself. He has set up charity showings of his latest film Sengoku Basara in Miyagi to help the victims recover. Morikawa then encouraged American fans to continue to show their passion for anime and manga.
"The one industry that is doing the best in Japan overall is the cultural industry," he said. "I want to encourage all of you to continue watch anime, cosplay, and put more energy into it. That energy will be felt by people in Japan, and it will help people in Japan recover. So keep on doing that!"
This year is the 25th year of Morikawa's seiyuu career. To commemorate this, he, along with another voice actor Fukuyama Jun, established a new voice acting company Axl One in April 2011. Since then, a number of voice actors have joined the company, including Hino Satoshi, Tachibana Shinnosuke, Mizushima Takahiro, Sugiyama Noriaki, Goto Yuku and Shindo Kei.
When one of the fans asked him whether he prefers new blood or more experienced voice actors when looking for people to join the company, Morikawa revealed his ambitious goal for the future: "I am trying to start a voice acting school. I want to take in new people who want to be voice actors or actresses, coach them, and turn them into good seiyuus. I want to take those brand new talents, and make them so good that they can be invited to Anime Expo!"
Since Morikawa has played many different roles in the entertainment industry, fans were wondering which medium of performance that is most difficult for the seiyuu.
"Nothing is really easy. They are all difficult, and I challenge myself with different work all the time," Morikawa told the audience. "However, I do think that anime is the most difficult. Because animation is all two-dimensional pictures, and I have to use my imagination more when portraying characters. A lot of times I have to exaggerate a little in order to get the ideas across. In contrast, movies have more dimensions, so I can hold myself back a little bit."
In addition to his life as a seiyuu and a businessman, Morikawa is also the frontman of J-Rock band Black Velvet, established in 2009 with four other members. During the Q&A session with fans, he was asked if he ever considered bringing Black Velvet to perform at Anime Expo. Morikawa laughed and told the audience that he loves the work he did with the band, but they've never performed in the United States before.
"I have expressed this desire to a friend in club in West Hollywood," he said. "It seems like if I work hard enough, there may be a possibility to perform in L.A." He asked the fans to help him get the word out: "if I can get help from you all and stir the interest here, it may happen!"
At the end of the panel, many fans gave the charismatic seiyuu small presents that they had prepared for him, such as drawings, chocolates and flowers. Morikawa gave his final remark about his experience attending Anime Expo: "This is my second time here. Last time I came [in 2009], I met many friendly people at AX, and I felt sorry that I had to leave. And this year I feel it's getting larger, and it seems like it's getting bigger year after year. There seems to be more people who are more powerful and more energetic. The earthquake earlier this year made me worried that it might affect my plan to attend AX, but it seems like it's business as usual here. Upon my return from AX to Japan, I would love to tell people about my experience at AX this year, and how wonderful things were."
Click here for Asia Pacific Arts' interview with Morikawa Toshiyuki.