Greetings from Anime North, the biggest anime and Japanese culture convention in Canada! We were on the ground in Toronto with seiyuu (voice actor) guest Junko Iwao, a veteran in the industry best known for her role as the voice of Tomoyo Daidouji from the classic magical girl anime, Card Captor Sakura.

Sitting in on her Friday evening Q&A panel with fans, and again on Saturday for a media interview, we got the latest scoop straight from the talented seiyuu herself! Here are the highlights from both sessions!

Of the 19 episodes of the new Card Captor Sakurathat have aired so far, which one is your favourite?
I was also very excited when I heard that Card Captor Sakurawas coming back. Just a few days ago, I had just finished recording for the last episode. I have many favourite, but I really liked the scene where Syaoron-kun and Sakura-chan meet under the cherry blossoms. I like the cute character of Tomoyo-chan secretly filming them. As for what to look forward to, I don’t want to give any spoilers! But let’s say that hopefully it will be a good ending.

Card Captor Sakura’s Tomoyo is a very dear and reliable friend to Sakura. What do you like about Tomoyo as a character?
She really takes careful care of Sakura-chan. She has a lot of love for her, and always puts her first.

What’s your favourite battle costume that Tomoyo made for Sakura?
The outfit that’s from the first episode and the angel dress with the tiara!

Did you watch any anime as a kid?
I watched Gundam when I was a child. Actually, I had the nickname “Gundam”, because the kanji in my last name IWAO can also be read as “GAN DAN” and a few boys slurred it together.

If you could play another character besides Tomoyo, who would you play?
I’d choose Kero-chan. He speaks Kansai dialect which is strongly associated with comedy in Japan. He always makes people laugh. When we were first recording for Card Captor Sakura, I was really looking forward to seeing who would be Kero-chan. It turned out to be Kansai native Aya Hisakawa.

Was voice acting always your dream?

When I was little I always looked up to the people who did this kind of work. But I wasn’t exactly sure how to become one. When I was 13, I moved away from Kyushu to Tokyo. I made a promise to my parents and myself: I would give myself 10 years to try to achieve my dreams. In fact, I was 23 years old when I finally passed my first voice-acting audition, for NHK anime Montana Jones.

Did you ever feel like you wanted to give up?
During those 10 years, I applied and applied but didn’t make the cut for any auditions. Near the end of that period, the 10 year lease on my apartment was close to ending, and I had even started packing my things to prepare for the move back to Kyushu. As for the Montana Jones audition, so many people had applied and they hadn’t contacted me back at all, so it felt like I had already been rejected. When I got the call I was really encouraged and started unpacking my things right away. It was a very hard time but I was able to overcome it thanks to anime. I was fortunate not to give up on my childhood dream.

So over the years, how has the industry changed/stayed the same?
When I first debuted, all the scripts were handwritten and we recorded our voices onto tape. Now it’s all digital. But what hasn’t changed is that no matter how many seiyuus are recording for a show, there are only the same 4 mics in the room that we all rotate in and out of our seats to share. There’s never 1 microphone per person! Everyone has to be extra careful when standing up, sitting down, or flipping through scripts. We have to do everything quietly.

Also, since I’ve started working in the industry, “multi-talented” seiyuus have appeared. Being asked to do various things like dancing, singing, photobooks, events and so on, may have increased.

What do you watch or read in your free time?
I like to visit places like manga cafes and re-read my old favourites, such as Glass Mask. As for anime, one of my favorites is Kemono Friends. Actually I met the producer yesterday at the airport, and I was so nervous that I wasn’t able to speak well at all! Also, I’ve been watching Card Captor Sakuraevery Sunday in realtime with the fans on twitter. I also record it and rewatch it again later.

Can you tell us a bit about your experience as a singer?
I debuted as a singer at the age of 16. For solo work I did a lot of commercials and things like that. And then I got a break to sing on a TV show where you sing children’s songs. It was there that I had a chance to sing in a childish voice. This experience of changing my voice may well have been the birth of Tomoyo-chan’s singing voice. It was when I was a teenager.

What’s your favourite Card Captor Sakurasong that you sang?
Yasashisa no tane comes to mind. Also, Yoru no Uta. There was actually a time when I lost the ability to do Tomoyo-chan’s voice, and I was depressed. But one day I was listening to this song and was encouraged to want to sing in Tomoyo-chan’s voice again. Yakusoku no Sora and Sora wo Miteiru yo are the new Tomoyo-chan songs from the new Card Captor Sakuraseries. So I hope everybody will receive those warmly as well.

What was it like working together with director Satoshi Kon?
The casting for Perfect Blue’s main character Mima was decided by Director Kon. We had never met until after the audition, but I was told that he had made his decision based on a recording of my voice. How it worked was, he asked all applicants to submit the line “Anata, dare na no?” (Who are you?). He must have listened to dozens upon dozens of recordings before finally deciding on the one that happened to be done by me. It was a great honor to finally meet him.

He also instructed me to carefully create a subtle difference between the voice of idol Mima and regular Mima. In the story, there is a scene where she gets pressured and gradually loses her sanity , I was told to really bring out those emotions fully in the role. One other thing that sticks in my mind is, he told me I have a small body but a big voice. All in all, at first I was a bit scared but he was a very nice director.

It’s been 18 years since the first Card Captor Sakura. What was it like getting back into the role of Tomoyo?
As I mentioned there was a year when I just couldn’t bring my voice up to Tomoyo-chan’s voice. This period was actually just before the new series announcement too. But thanks to ample rest and careful training, I was actually able to make it even better than before.

What sort of training did you do to become a seiyuu?

I especially tried to imitate the professional seiyuus that I heard in media and newscasters on TV. I wouldn’t really call it training, but at the very least I would practice every time I had a moment to spare, and also challenge difficult materials. Vocal lessons were especially fruitful. I learned many secret techniques from my teachers!

You’ve done many different roles. Is there any type of character that you’d like to do in the future?

Because I debuted as a high class young lady “ojousama” type of character, I received many jobs related to that type of role. But I’d really like to try light and fluffy animal-esque roles, or revist characters such as Mima.

As the host of the “Happy Flight” radio program, it’s quite fitting that you’ve been doing a lot of travel prior to coming to Toronto for Anime North. How was your experience in Valencia, Spain (Japan Weekend Valencia)?

It was just last week, and the oranges in Valencia were very delicious. The sky was so beautiful and the buildings were all white as I had expected. No matter where I went, everyone was very lively and friendly, both inside and outside of the event.

What has your impression of Toronto been so far? Is there anything you’d like to see or do while you’re here?

It’s always been my dream to visit Canada. Many years ago, I was involved in a project called Canada World which was a musical inspired by Ann of Green Gables. I haven’t been out of the area near the convention yet but, being near the airport, I’ve been able to see many many planes, which I love. I’m hoping the convention staff will take me to the special waterfalls that are located nearby (Niagara Falls).

One of the most powerful moments in Madoka Magica is the bar scene where Junko and Kazuko reflect about the girls in the show from a grown-ups point of view. How was your experience working on Madoka Magica?

That scene was completely different. A typical recording session usually has all of the seiyuu in the same room, but for this scene it was just the two of us together by ourselves. We really created the grown-up atmosphere of that bar in the studio.

So do you have any advice you’d like to offer the young magical girls in Card Captor Sakura?
I’m not sure if this is really advice but…They’re just so pure and innocent. Sakura-chan has overcome numerous hardships in her life and Tomoyo-chan is always watching over her. I would ask them to stay the same as they are. I hope they will continue being honest and cute.

Are there any other animes you’ve worked on in the past that you’d like to see a remake or sequel of next?
It’d be nice if they remade Montana Jones. It was an NHK drama anime and It was my debut role. I played the character Melissa.

On Friday evening after her Q&A Panel, Ms. Iwao also delivered a fantastic concert on the Anime North main stage. It was a setlist full of emotion and nostalgia, including cover songs from anime that she has worked on, and character songs originally done by her. All in all it was real treat to have her at Anime North, and we hope to see her back in Canada soon!