Sakebe, Numakura Manami’s long awaited solo debut single sold 6,834 copies on the first week and ranked 19th on the Oricon Weekly chart. KAI-YOU did an interview with her that also dug up her history, so we have it translated for you. Major props to Meiru for basically rewriting my whole draft.
One could call this moment ‘a long time coming’, as Numakura Manami finally makes her solo debut under the label Flying Dog, with Sakebe—the opening theme to the anime Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku.
Ever since debuting as Ganaha Hibiki of THE IDOLM@STER—a franchise known as the ‘Pinnacle of 2D Idols’ in 2009—Numakura has made numerous appearances in lives and shows alike. In 2013, she portrayed Takao in the anime Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio Ars Nova, while simultaneously releasing CDs and performing live as a member of the trio-group known as Trident. (Trident was disbanded in April 2016 following their Solo Live at Makuhari Messe.)
During the [Animelo Summer Live 2016 刻 -TOKI-] she performed Sakebe for an arena of 27,000 people, putting to use her years of experience in singing and dancing at large events. You wouldn’t think this was her solo debut with how well she worked the stage and crowd!
It’s as if her solo debut was an drawn arrow waiting to be fired at a moment’s notice. Come along as KAI-YOU catches up with Numakura Manami and her current goings-on, as well as discuss her plans for the future. We’ll also recount tales of her youth and the influences that shaped the Numakura we know today—in commemoration of her 28th birthday this year!
What was the catalyst that started a simple anime-loving girl down the path of a famed Seiyuu? According to the woman herself, “There haven’t been very many dramatic events in my life”. As such, it seems only natural to think that the culmination of all the little things she did each and every day contributed the most to her rise as a voice actress.
Her story is a reminder to everyone that never giving up and staying true to yourself are the most important things of all. The stars won’t align themselves for you, you must to put them into place yourself.
The Days of Growing up in the TSUTAYA Solo Culture Club
—In a previous interview, you stated that “I’m not really cut out for a solo career”, but then went on to say that despite your reservations, everyone’s words of encouragement are what convinced you to at least give it a shot. However, was there any specific event that cemented that decision in your mind?
Numakura: I’m afraid there aren’t really any dramatic events like that in my life, haha. I suppose if there was one thing… it’s that I’m glad to have the same producer I had while I was in Trident. It’s almost like fate, really. I mean, even if I’d decided to go solo, without people to support me every step of the way, it wouldn’t have happened. If I had to point to any one event, that’s the best I can think of.
—As an artist yourself, you must listen to all sorts of music. But growing up, what kind of music and artists were you into?
Numakura: Well, the first album I remember buying was from Suzuki Ami. During middle school, I rented all kinds of music from TSUTAYA; from SAYAKA (Kanda Sayaka), Hamasaki Ayumi, to Kinki Kids—I listened to it all nonstop. One day, though, I felt like listening to Western songs and got my hands on this CD from an English vocal group called Blue. I wasn’t the only one that did this sort of thing, right?
—No, no. Not at all, haha.
Numakura: I think the [One Love] album came out around then. I was totally entranced when I saw those 4 guys standing there in their black jackets. The Backstreet Boys were popular too, but I liked Blue because I “found out” about them myself, you know? The way they harmonized was beautiful, plus, they had a lot of good songs in general. I especially liked the song entitled [Guilty]; so much that I still listen to it even now! I’ve been hooked ever since.
—At the time, there was a huge band boom going on, but it seems like you gravitated more towards solo singers?
Numakura: All of my friends were into bands at the time, but every band I saw I’d always find myself mainly attracted to the singer of each, so I started looking into solo singers more. You know, back when we were doing the B-side track for Sakebe, I sent in a lot of sample tracks from BoA or Hirai Ken for reference. Back then, I often found myself thinking “This song that [they] did is so good!”, and every time I found a song I really liked, I’d just listen to it over and over on loop. Not much has changed really, I still do stuff like that to this day.
It wasn’t just music either. I was like that with books, too. Back then, I was really into the likes of Tanaka Yoshiki, Ono Fuyumi, Shinoda Mayumi Kitakata Kenzou, and… Oh yeah! Back when I was in middle school was when Nisio Isin had his debut, and I was really into his Zaregoto series. As soon as school let out I’d always head straight to TSUTAYA and rent anime and music before going home… getting to try out all these different things was really, really fun.
—It’s like you were a one man culture club, almost. So, was your personality as child different from how you are now?
Numakura: I’d say I was more cheerful as a kid. My brother, cousins, and all the other kids in my neighborhood, were younger than me so I was the one looking after everyone—everyone’s Onee-chan, if you will. I used to play outside a bunch, and my dad would take me bug catching and stuff, but the only extra lessons I took were in penmanship so I didn’t really get to do that much exercise.
Discovering Seiyuu Through a Drama CD
—You said were a rather active child who played outside a lot, so, what made you get into anime, then?
Numakura: Ever since I was kid I would watch the shows that aired at night, but I would say that this one incident during my fourth grade year was that really changed everything for me. So, I had made friends with this girl who had recently moved into our neighborhood. She liked anime and manga and stuff, but one day, she brought something different—the Fruits Basket Drama CD. When I heard all the Seiyuu only using their voices to express the characters, I was blown away. It was amazing! That was really the first time I’d heard about Seiyuu as a profession.
—That must’ve been something really special, huh? Fruits Basket had such a great casting lineup, too.
Numakura: After all that, I really got into reading this manga magazine called [Hana to Yume]. It’d typically have some special Drama CD attached, or they’d give them out as presents to people who wrote in. At the time, I remember we got HanaKimi (Hanazakari no Kimitachi he), SekiKara (Sekai de Ichiban Daikirai), and pPoi! You know, that reminds me… I’d listen to the CDs and write out the all dialogue so I could have a script to read back to myself, but they all talked so fast, and I couldn’t keep up with how slow I wrote! I couldn’t stand how messy my handwriting got as I tried to stay on pace, so I’ve never actually finished writing out any scripts, hahaha.
But yeah, that’s my admiration for Seiyuu all started, I guess. By the time I graduated primary school I was already thinking about how one can become a Seiyuu. In middle school, I started watching mores shows and following more Seiyuu, and even started buying Seiyuu magazines.
Around my second year of middle school was when Mobile Suit Gundam SEED started airing. When I watched that I thought, “Whoa, so this is what Gundam is like!” If you think about Gundam and the grand scheme of the series, SEED is just another page in its history—but that page is when I got into it! I remember hearing about the Z Gundam movie, and thought that it’d probably best if I caught up and watched everything. During my years in high school, I actually went back watched it all starting from the very beginning.
—I think I understand why you always say that Sakakibara Yoshiko is the Seiyuu you’re aiming to be in interviews. It didn’t really make sense, since it’s been years since she was really active.
Numakura: That’s it exactly! It’s all because of Haman-sama! When I started watching SEED, I also started listening to the radio shows the Seiyuu cast were in. If you listen closely, they all have the same voice as the characters, but they’re two totally different people. It was so interesting to listen to not only their voice acting skills, but also the kind of people they were personally. I felt the same way listening to their shows as I did listening to Drama CDs.
—Are there any Seiyuu who ‘shock’ you with how different they are from their characters?
Numakura: Hmm, I would say… Seki Tomokazu comes to mind. The gap between him normally and him in character is so huge! He’s always really… interesting… to hear from during radio shows, haha. Learning about all these little quirks is really fun.
—As time went on, that path to becoming a Seiyuu became more clear to you, right?
Numakura: Yep. In high school, there was a time where I was wondering about what I want to be in the future. I wasn’t really sure what to do, I just knew I didn’t want to end up working as just another employee at some company.
One time while I was watching Gundam I stopped and thought, “I really like anime and manga… Maybe I should try to become a professional seiyuu…” With that in mind, I talked to my parents about it. I told them, “I wanna join a training school. I’ll even pay for it myself!” As a result, I started working part-time at a shoe store one of my classmates was working at. I had no clue about shoes at all, but I was put in charge of the sneakers and keeping track of the inventory, haha. I saved up all the money I could and had the interview during my second year of high school, and finally entered during the spring of my third.
—It’s usually common for people to get in the training schools after graduating, so what was your reason for going to two schools at once?
Numakura: I thought that the chances of becoming a Seiyuu were low, and that if tryouts didn’t go well, I would be able to easily stop and pursue something else. My go-to person for advice in high school was this very understanding homeroom teacher of mine, and when I brought up the subject of entering another school to him, he said “There’s no such thing as starting too early. The earlier, the better!” I thought he hit the nail on the head with that. Since I never done any acting until then, I wanted to jump into it as fast as possible.
The Daily Struggle of “Why Can’t I Do This?”
—So, tell me, what kind of student were you while in training school?
Numakura: Not a very good at all. I was in a class of about 25 people, all of which were in a completely different league than me. Since we all varied in age by quite a bit, I ended up becoming a bit more shy and timid. I’m the type of person that wonders how other people view me, so I was too self-conscious to really get into the acting, at the time.
—Was there a point where you managed to overcome that?
Numakura: Yeah! When I passed the audition, graduated high school, was entrusted to a seiyuu agency—all at the same time—my teacher told me, “You’ve really come into your own and aren’t afraid to make mistakes now. Keep it up, you’re doing great!” I didn’t realise it at first, but that’s when I learned all my hard work was paying off.
—I guess your old teacher telling you “There’s no such thing as starting too early”, really struck a chord, huh?
Numakura: Perhaps so. But back then, I was basically living a life of part-time work, going to training school once a week, and sometimes—hopefully—getting info from my agency about auditions, and going for them. I couldn’t get any work until the winter of that year, and I didn’t pass any auditions either…
—How do you cope with the times where you just can’t seem to land any jobs?
Numakura: Compared to back then, it’s a lot better now. I do this thing where I review my performance for the day, right? As I get into my blanket, I’d start thinking about what I couldn’t accomplish and what I can do to improve it day-by-day. Back then, there were times where these reviews would keep me up all night—I couldn’t sleep at all! People told me that doing them before bed wasn’t very good for my mental health, so these days I try to be more careful and do my reviews in the middle of the afternoon instead, haha.
The thought of not being able to do something was always looming over my head. I had no idea how to ‘get better’… There were times when I would blankly stare at my script, at a loss of what to even do. For me, practicing for lives and stuff is what really calms me down and lets me clear my head, so what I did was book all the empty slots I could at the agency’s studio for a week, and just practiced, practiced, practiced.
One of the instructors at the training school once told me, “The only way to clear away your anxiety is with practice. Practice, practice, practice, until you’re so sure you’ve got it perfect that you could do it in your sleep. Only then can you say you’re ready!” It’s only when I started working in the industry that I truly understood what they had meant.
The Teacher I Met While Working on iM@S
—So, what changed for you in the winter of that year?
Numakura: That December was when I auditioned for THE IDOLM@STER (iM@S), and I was informed that I had passed and of when I would be debuting at the start of the next year. I felt truly blessed, honestly. With iM@S, though, there are live performances, and on top of that, my experience in singing was basically limited to karaoke sessions with my friends… So I had a lot of trouble with it at first.
“Recordings? What’s that? What in the world is this giant machine with tons of knobs!?” I was completely clueless as to what was going on, haha. In order to make a product the audience will truly enjoy, it’s essential to bring the characters’ voices to life. This is just one of the many things that iM@S taught me
—There must be a lot of things from iM@S that left an impression on you, but is there anything that really stands out?
Numakura: If had not met Kikuta Hiromi, the iM@S anime’s sound director, I don’t think I would be the same person I am today.
I had no real experience with working in anime up until I met her. She taught me basically me everything I know now; from how the staff think the actors should perform, to how I should approach my own acting. She always went above and beyond just being a normal sound director. One day after a recording session she even took me out for food, and through that I was able to really get to know her, and exchange stories.
Some time after that, Kikuta-san told me the look in my eyes had changed. I guess you could say my perspective on the world had broadened because of her. I took to heart all the things taught to me and started applying them one-by-one. iM@S continued on for two seasons, and even after it’s over now, I still try to talk to Kikuta-san when I get the chance. I attribute my ability to land main line roles, and eventually my role in Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio Ars Nova, to her.
—I get the impression that that you are a model student who listened to everything your homeroom teacher, training instructor, and Kikuta Hiromi said, and slowly built up a wealth of experience by putting their advice into practice.
Numakura: Well, there’s a lot of things about my training that I only came to realize after I’d left. At the time, it all just went in one ear and out the other… My entire time at training school and all the things they told me just really didn’t hit me. But when I started working suddenly, “Oh, so that’s why they said that”, has crossed through my mind more times than I can count. Honestly, I think all those little tidbits of advice they gave me back in training school were the most valuable things I got out of it.
The “Shout (Sakebe)” That Links the Characters to My Own Weakness
—Thanks to all your efforts, though, you’ve finally made your own debut as a singer! Tell me, how was your first ever solo performance at [AniSama]?
Numakura: I was really worried how people would react. When I appeared up on pitch black stage with no name banner or anything, I didn’t think anyone would be able to recognize me—but I could still hear people cheering my name.
Hearing all those voices through my stage monitors really made me happy to be there. Thanks to them, I was able to relax and focus on my performance. After it was all said and done, it felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I felt like I could take on the whole world! Haha
—So you wrote the lyrics for [Sakebe] yourself, as well as the lyrics to [Mata Ashita] during your time in Trident. Both of these songs have a common theme of being weak or afraid, what was your inspiration for this?
Numakura: When I wrote Mata Ashita, it was with the mindset of how I always am, so I wasn’t consciously trying to create a specific atmosphere, or anything. With Sakebe, though, I knew from the start I wanted the lyrics to reflect the feelings of the weak. When I read through the scenario, I saw how all of the characters were burdened with a crippling weakness. In order to properly express that, I tried to link their weaknesses with the weakness I knew existed somewhere within myself. When I managed to do that, the words just started pouring out one after the other.
—Did the instrumental come out first then?
Numakura: Yeah, the tune ended up sounding more powerful than I initially intended, but because the song itself had such strong ties to the world of MahouIku, the lyrics were able to play off that connection, and I was able to make the theme of ‘weakness’ stand out quite a bit with it.
But… it took a while for whole thing to come together. Over the course of about one and a half months, I wrote and rewrote, and spent a lot of time thinking about what it was I really wanted to convey.
—What sort of things did you have in mind?
Numakura: In my head, I pictured a person. Someone who couldn’t move forward. Someone who couldn’t overcome their problems on their own. A person filled with frustration, sadness, and helplessness, but still had the will to think “I have to do something about this!” It took a lot of trial and error to find a single word that could convey all these emotions.
When I came across the word shout (Sakebe), I immediately knew that that was it! It was like a stream of consciousness started flowing out after that. There are some things I thought of that didn’t end up being put in, so I’m not 100% sure I was able to convey it all, but overall though, I think it turned out well.
Seiyuu, Otaku, Singer… The Neverending Charm of Numakura Manami!
—In contrast, the B-side Kotonoha is a gentle slow ballad, whereas HEY! is a fun upbeat song.
Numakura: Yeah, I wanted something different from Sakebe, and it ended up being really cheerful. When we were making HEY! I asked if we could have a song that I can go nuts to. You know, a song I can sing while and jumping around! Well… I probably wouldn’t be able to actually sing while doing that, but you know what I mean. Hahaha
—I think everyone will be amped up to 2000% during lives with that!
Numakura: I want more songs we all can go nuts to!
—So, what’s next for you after your debut?
Numakura: I think the biggest thing for me is probably a solo live. I’ve also only really had experience playing a keyboard, so it’d be great if I could learn to play other ones too. Maybe… that’s a little too much though…
Also, I want to make a dance song. Not dance choreography, but an actual song. It’s something that long-time fans of mine have been hoping for, so I’d like to be able to show off a different type of performance from the one I did with Sakebe.
Another thing is that I’d like to be able to have a performance similar to what the comedian Watanabe Naomi did. Kind of mimic it beat-for-beat, including the dancing. I don’t know what people would think about that, but it’d be interesting, to say the least.
—I’m not sure what to expect, but I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the future!. Thank you so much for taking your time out for today.
Numakura: Ah, I got to talk about a lot of otaku things today so it was fun, haha. It’s been hard keep it all inside lately, so I’ve been splurging and buying up a bunch of stuff from ONE PIECE, like a limited edition watch. The Chopper one is really cute.
—Is there anything else you’ve been into? Like manga and such?
Numakura: Hmmm, well, sometimes there are days where I stay at home all day and just read manga. I’ve been pretty into Matsuura Daruma’s Kasane, as well as Sakamoto Kenichi’s Innocent lately. My bookshelf is absolutely packed, haha. You know, if you talk to my official LINE account from 10:00 to 10:03 AM, it’ll tell you what books I recommend, so check that out!
Wha— Three minutes? Is that some kind of easter egg!? I’ll have to check it out ASAP! Once again, congratulations on your debut!