I’ve been blessed to interview numerous talents in acting, directing, and producing at conventions, but Tōru Furuya is a living legend within the anime industry. A guest of honor at Anime NYC 2018, Furuya-san was among the earliest anime voice actors, getting his start at the industry’s dawn in Japan. Furuya-san originated the roles of Tuxedo Mask in Sailor Moon, Yamcha in Dragon Ball, Ray Amuro in Mobile Suit Gundam, Sabo in One Piece, Pegasus Seiya in Saint Seiya, and Rei Furuya in Detective Conan. His performance career has spanned close to 60 years, and he is still out there booking roles and lending his voice to projects!
Otter Lee (AsianCrush): What was it like originating the role of Tuxedo Mask, and how has it impacted you as a performer?
Tōru Furuya: For the longest time I had been playing the role of the main character or hero, and those characters tend to be hot-headed and fiery. In Japan, the cold characters tend to take more of a supporting role, but they also tend to be more popular. So for that reason, there were times that I got disappointed when I was playing the usual hot-headed hero, but when I did Sailor Moon, I was able to perform the role of the cool character, and he was also extremely popular among young women, so I was very happy about that.
You’ve also voiced Yamcha in Dragon Ball for over 30 years. How do you feel about that character’s journey?
So, Yamcha came out really strong at the beginning of Dragon Ball, but as the series went on you got new characters like Tien, Piccolo and Vegeta, who started coming on even stronger. Yamcha started losing all his battles, and then ended up playing more of a comedic role, and it was disappointing for me.
Was it sad for you when Yamcha lost Bulma to Vegeta?
Of course! I HATE Vegeta!
You actually voiced one of the Saibaman, right?
This is not true anymore, but when it comes to anime from a long time ago, voice actors would play both the roles of the main characters and the suppporting characters. They would play double or triple roles. There were so many Saibemen that everybody was taking turns playing the role. I mean all the regulars were, and I was doing that as well.
So did you actually play the Saibaman that killed Yamcha?
We all did it at the same time, so I don’t really recall clearly, but I don’t think I was the one who killed Yamcha.
Good, good. That would be very heartbreaking! So you all took turns attacking each other?
I think the voice actor named Suzuki did the Saibaman that killed Yamcha.
Out of Mamoru, Yamcha, and Amuro from Gundam, who do you see yourself as most similar to and why?
Probably Yamcha. Because he loves women! I also joke around with my friends a lot.
Have you ever watched the live action or English dubbed versions of your characters?
I believe I have seen a couple of them. The ones that were dubbed, yeah, and live action Dragon Ball, yes that happened. I think Saint Seiya is getting a live action version made in Hollywood too, but obviously, I haven’t seen that one yet. There’s also going to be the live action Gundam over here.
How did you become a voice actor, and how has voice acting in the industry of anime changed since you first started?
When I was 5 years old I joined one of those theatre groups for children, and I was in one of the dramas and playing a role as a child. When I was 10 years old, I was one of the dub voice actors for a US drama. That’s how I started doing VO. And then, when I was 12 years old I did my first audition for an anime, and became my first main character.
How would you say the the anime industry changed over time?
There have definitely been huge changes technology-wise. So 50 years ago, they were rolling films in the studio and it looked like a huge screen in a theatre. But nowadays we use 3 displays and there are 3 mics, and I have my own mic, and my own monitor, and that’s where I do the actor recording. So a long time ago, the studios were really dark because they were only lit by screens, but now they have displays so we can shoot with a lot of lights on.
Do Japanese voice actors hang out between recording sessions or at conventions? Do they become friends or romantic partners, or feel like a family over time? It’s certainly something American voice actors do.
Yes in Japan that happens too. In Japan we all do the acting and recording together at the same studio. So we work together and after work, everybody in the cast and the rest of the staff goes out for dinner and drinks together, so we do become good friends.
Lastly, how do you maintain the youthful energy of your characters across the decades?
So when I become the hero in an anime, I really feel like I get to live in that cool role and say a lot of cool words, and I really feel that keeps me feeling super happy, psyched, and energetic, and that’s really what I love about being a voice actor.
Thank you, Furuya-san!