Toru Furuya at Desucon

interview - 08.02.2009 20:01

The voice actor and solo artist Toru Furuya visited Desucon in Finland, where JaME exchanged a few words with him and reported on his musical performance at the event

The brand new Finnish event for Japanese pop culture, Desucon, was organized this year for the first time. The convention had advertised itself as being a little bit of a different kind of an event, with its strongest assets being a wide selection of events and several notable guests of honor, raising interest even outside of the country. The voice actor (seiyuu) Toru Furuya's first visit to Europe caused great interest among older anime fans, as the veteran with decades of experience has played such well-known roles as Amuro Ray in "Mobile Suit Gundam" and Tuxedo Mask in "Sailor Moon". On top of this, his talents also reach into the realms of music, with Furuya's solo debut in Spring 2008.

Furuya's Desucon appearances included both an autograph session and a ninety minute panel discussion, where he had the chance to talk about his career in his own words. This was conducted in the style of an interview, discussing even the musical part of his career. For example, when talking about the rock dreams of his youth, Furuya mentioned being left-handed and holding the guitar similarly to Jimi Hendrix. He commented on the career choice made between music and voice acting by saying that in Japan poeple don't make much money as rock musicians - although he quickly admitted that the situation was the same for voice actors. This is something he returned back to later on, during a question asked by a fan about his worst experience, where he pointed out the worst side of the business is the fact that with voice actors' salaries you don't get to buy houses like movie stars do.

Nevertheless it's clear that Furuya enjoys the support of a wide and loyal fanbase, and it was positive to see him continuously giving such warm reactions back to them. JaME made use of the opportunity and interviewed Furuya about his musical career.

How has your visit to Finland been so far?

Furuya: I heard it was summer here, but the weather has been rather cold. (laughs) There was a lot of green in the Helsinki centrum, which was wonderful.

What are your expectations regarding this event?

Furuya: I'm interested in finding out how much people know about me in Finland and what they think of me. But, at the same, time I'm nervous about how I will be received.

You picked up voice acting at a young age. At that time, did you also dream of a singing career?

Furuya: In high school my class mates and I had a rock band, where I both sang and played the guitar. Back then I honestly believed I could become a rock musician.

I had acted in TV series starting from the age of 5, and when I was 10 I started dubbing American series and movies. I got my first main role in anime when I was 15 years old, in a series called "Kyojin no hoshi", which became a huge hit in Japan. I continued voice acting until I was 18 years old, then I took a break for my University entrance exams. After graduating I thought long and hard about what I'd like to do as a living in the future, and because of "Kyojin no hoshi"'s huge success I ended up choosing voice acting.
As the years kept passing by, voice actors become more and more popular, and that was when I formed the band Slapstick together with colleagues. The band released a whopping 12 records. After this I had a 15 year long break from album releases, until last year when my solo album came out through avex trax. I am also interested in continuing to sing, if I have the chance.

Slapstick were around in the 80s and you played drums, right? How did this band get started out?

Furuya: The members were good friends of mine. We often got together at a bar, where we had the chance to sing and play guitar just for fun. However, after a while, the bar ended up biting the dust (laughs), and we had no place to sing together. That's when we decided to form our own band and I ended up on drums because no-one else wanted to.

Slapstick recorded their 12 albums really quickly. How do you remember this aprticular era? Was this tough to work at that kind of pace?

Furuya: Yes, it was a rather difficult time for me. We released two albums every year and on top of that we often played concerts in the three big Japanese cities, Nagoya, Tokyo and Osaka.

Before your actual solo career you had performed several songs on anime soundtracks. What made you also sing on behalf of your characters?

Furuya: The anime "Patarilo!" had all the Slapstick members in side roles, and it also had a single, where I sang together with the voice actress of the lead female role. I also sang a song for the anime version of "Huckleberry Finn", even though I didn't act in it, and a theme song to the drama series "Iya obaachan". The idea of soundtrack participation came from Slapstick's producer. I also sang the theme song of the "Dragon Quest" character I voiced, and the image album songs for "Kimagure Orange Road" and "Sailor Moon".

What kind of a project was it to create the solo album HEROES ~to my treasure~? Did it take a long time to gather the songs?

Furuya: The album has seven tracks, which are tributes to six of my characters - "Gundam"'s Amuro Ray has got two songs dedicated to him. This is my way of honoring my characters and the process of choosing them went pretty quickly.

Your album includes also a couple of songs with a darker atmosphere, such as Reckless throw and Okami. What are they about?

Furuya: Reckless throw is based on the main character of "Kyojin no hoshi", a boy called Hyuma Hoshi. The story is about a young boy who grows up to become a professional level baseball player. Hyuma, however, is rather small and therefore unable to throw fast pitches, so in order to survive in the game he creates different kinds of screw ball techniques. The first one is about a deliberate poke of the bat, and the second one includes the ball disappearing in the middle of the air. The third specialty is a pitch, where the ball changes its course in the air and bypasses the bat. (With his hands Furuya demonstrates a ball suddenly going round an obstacle.) But he has a lot of rivals, who can hit even these pitches. Becoming a professional baseball player is very important for Hyuma and he works a lot in order to reach that goal. That is what the story is about and Reckless throw shows respect to his development.
Okami on the other hand is dedicated to "Dragon Ball"'s Yamcha. In the beginning, Yamcha was a road bandit and as such he was called the Desert Wolf, the lonely wolf, until he meets Goku, and together they begin to fight the aliens. The song Okami was written thinking specifically of this early era, when Yamcha was still lonely.

Your album's bonus song was composed by Gackt. Can you tells us something about this collaboration?

Furuya: Lalah no Yasoukyoku -nocturne- is dedicated to "Gundam"'s Amuro Ray. The lyrics were written by the director of the series, Tomino Yoshiyuki, and the composition was created by Gackt, who is a huge "Gundam" fan. I was the first one to have a song offered to by Gackt and as a fan of the series he was delighted to work on it, although normally this isn't something he'd do. But after the song was finished, I noticed that it's quite a difficult one to sing. (laughs)

Have you had chances to perform you music live?

Furuya: Yes, I have. In Japan there are a lot of anime events, where I can perform my songs. The first time I sang songs from HEROES ~to my treasure~ was at Anime Fair, held at Makuhari Messe.

A more relaxed question now: What kind of music do you listen in your free time?

Furuya: (thinks) ...Everything really. (thinks for a long time) Lately I've been listening to the theme song for the new "Gundam 00" series, it's performed by THE BACK HORN. My wife on the other hand is a fan of Korean drama series, so I also have to listen to their songs. (everyone laughs)

Do you have any future plans concerning your musical career?

Furuya: Yes, I'm performing the theme song to the "Tokusatsu Kamen Rider" game called "Climax Heroes". It'll be released this summer.

What kind of a message would you like to give to our readers?

Furuya: Please continue watching anime, and keep on supporting voice actors and anime in the future as well. If anime's popularity continues to grow in Europe, it'll also give a chance to people like me to come and take part in events. Thank you.

The recently recorded new song mentioned in the interview had its surprising world premiere at Finland's Desucon. After finishing his event, Furuya showed the audience a trailer of the upcoming Playstation 2 game "Kamen Rider: Climax Heroes", which featured his song in the background. The edgy pop track on the video was clearly rougher than the songs on his solo album, and therefore the new piece matched well together with a game of Japanese-style hero fights.

The trailer, presenting a wide variety of "Kamen Riders", wasn't the end of the day's musical offerings, as Furuya went on to a two-song mini concert. The stage had been used for the panel discussion just a few minutes before, and therefore didn't magically transform into a glamorous rock stage, although the lighting changed to flashing lights of different colours. Furuya was given a microphone in the middle of the stage, where he performed the songs Only one shining star and Lalah no Yasoukyoku -nocturne-, both from HEROES ~to my treasure~. The relaxed atmosphere of him wearing a cozy jacket with light stripes and casual jeans with additional chain for keys reflected the same kind of simplified rock spirit as his solo album, and captivated the baffled audience.

The adventurous beat of Only one shining star filled Sibelius Hall's dazzling main hall, livening up the event, whereas Lalah no Yasoukyoku -nocturne-, composed by Gackt, sounds notably more controlled. For this song Furuya took off his jacket, revealing a T-shirt with a youthful print. The way he conveyed feelings by making dramatic moves along with the music was impressive and he kept this up throughout the whole performance. The short concert ended with overwhelming applause and considering both the artist's devotion and the audience's reactions, it was a shame the show had been constructed only as a side note of the voice acting discussion, without its own mention in the convention's schedule. Furuya's charisma surely isn't limited to anime studios and expressing familiar lines, and hopefully we'll someday get another the chance to enjoy his music.

We'd like to thank Toru Furuya, his manager Katsuaki Ikeda and Desucon for making the interview possible.
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