[Interview] Anime Hack – Saito Soma & Ono Kensho – The Quest for Cuteness in Uchitama?!

Original Article: https://anime.eiga.com/news/110265/
Published: 2020/1/8

Saito Soma
(Tama in Uchitama?! ~Uchi no Tama Shirimasenka?~)

Ono Kensho (Pochi in Uchitama?! ~Uchi no Tama Shirimasenka?~)

The animal characters from Tama & Friends ~Uchi no Tama Shirimasenka?~ (1983) have been anthropomorphized! The anime Uchitama?! ~Uchi no Tama Shirimasenka?~ begins airing on January 9, and depicts the everyday lives of the friends of Third Street. The characters’ human forms are as cute as the original series, but when we spoke to Saito Soma (who plays the cat Tama) and Ono Kensho (who plays the dog Pochi), we found out that there was a lot of hardship behind the cuteness! How do they produce cuteness, and what does Saito have to say about Ono’s “cutest” voice? They also spoke about Uchitama?!’s “aggressiveness,” and how it’s not just cute and fluffy.

How are the human forms of Tama & Friends acted?

Q: Both the original animal forms and the humanized forms appear in this work (they appear as animals in front of humans, and their anthropomorphized forms when the humans aren’t around). Did the cast voice the animal forms as well?

Soma: Actually, for the audition, I only voiced the anthropomorphized Tama. But when I opened the script for Episode 1 and saw that the cat-form Tama was speaking first, I thought “Huh?! …What?” *laughs* Then, at the recording, they said “Everyone try it just once first,” and from then on, it was us voicing them.

Kensho: Everyone was surprised. I think a lot of us thought we’d only have to do it that one time.

Q: Do you make realistic noises for the animal forms?

Soma: At first I thought it’d be mascot-like onomatopoeias, but they said no.

Kensho: It had to be realistic animal sounds.

Soma: They asked us not to make sounds like humans, so we had to draw a clear line between dialogue lines and animal sounds.

Q: What about the reverse? How animal-like did you make the human forms?

Soma: Instead of the fact that they were a cat or a dog, we focused more on their individual personalities.

Kensho: Yeah, I don’t think I was particularly conscious of Pochi being a dog. When Pochi talks about their owners, I go “Oh right! He’s a dog.” *laughs*

Soma: The effect the animals have is that, Pochi’s actions and dialogues follow a logical train of thought, while Tama’s are instinctive. When Tama’s talking to Pochi and hears a bell ring, he’ll go “Over there!” and run off. I thought it’d be good to bring out that “instinctive” nature in my acting.

Kensho: What I was conscious of was “space.” Also… if I had to do a retake, it was always a matter of “cute” or “not cute” *laughs*

With a strong heart and vocal cords… you can create cuteness?

Q: “Cuteness” is an important factor of this anime, but it seems like it’d be difficult to portray an animal’s pure, unintentional cuteness. What did you have to keep in mind?

Soma: This is a question… for Kensho-san! *laughs*

Kensho: You can create it! Cuteness can be created *laughs* …There’s no choice but to see it through to the end. If you lose heart, it’s over. The moment you think “What am I doing?”, you’ve lost *laughs*

Soma: *uncontrollable laughter*

Kensho: It’s the polar opposite of my usual self, so I can’t try to force a connection. So, I set my usual self aside and focus on maximizing the cute… and drive myself into a corner *laughs* It really works up a sweat.

Soma: I know! I was sweating so much.

Kensho: “Does this sound cute to me?” That’s all I had to go off of, so I kept telling myself “I am cute. I am cute!”

Q: So it starts with feeling. Did you have any technical tricks?

Kensho: *while deliberating* Technique? …Take care of your vocal cords! And prepare the day before *laughs*

Soma: *laughs* He’s right, though. Both of us are using a much higher key than our natural voices, so it’s hard to do detailed intonations.

Kensho: That’s why it’s important to maintain our vocal cords. That might be what I was the most conscious of.

Q: I’m getting a better picture of Ono-san’s way of “creating cuteness.” Saito-san, what do you think the secret to his cute acting is?

Soma: At the recording sessions for Uchitama?!, I learned more ways of expressing high tones from Kensho-san. In our dialogues together, I realized how the different methods change how the voice is heard, and it feels easier to produce that voice than it did at the start. To be more specific, I’d been forcefully producing that high voice, but it seems like sometimes Kensho-san relaxes and his key drifts higher?

Kensho: Yeah.

Soma: That’s it! I think that way sounds the cutest. It’s really cute how it floats up to the highest pitch. It requires technique though, so it’s not something you can do easily. That’s why he says you have to be determined to create cuteness.

Kensho: I create cuteness with determination *laughs*

Q: So you learned about cuteness from Ono-san *laughs* What do you pay attention to when voicing cuteness, Saito-san?

Soma: I talked about it earlier, but Tama isn’t a person, so I think it’d be cuter to bring out the personality of a cat. For example, things like following sounds and eating other people’s food when he’s hungry. The things he does instinctively without thinking are his “natural” cuteness. So, “generally doesn’t listen to what others say and is loyal to his own desires” is the base, and after that comes “how cute I can make my voice.” Hopefully, the result is something that makes people think “A cat is living in a human’s body. That’s so cute; I’m being healed.”

Q: Ono-san, what do you think of Saito-san’s cute acting?

Kensho: As he said just now, I think he’s accurately grasped the concept of “showing cuteness by exemplifying Tama’s characteristics.” That’s why Tama’s whimsicality and even the times when he’s not being cute still look cute. I think he’s challenging a “cuteness that isn’t just cute.”

Have the two of them grown closer thanks to “cuteness”?

Q: Have your impressions of each other changed through this work?

Kensho: We’ve been working together a lot lately.

Soma: Indeed.

Kensho: But previously, Soma-kun was voicing cool-type characters, so it’s refreshing to see him voicing a cute type. Plus, we’re both going through the same pain this time *laughs* So, I think it’d be nice to support each other as we go through this. We never talked about it directly, but I get the feeling that we both feel the same way.

Soma: On the other hand, I was already used to Kensho-san voicing cute roles. But this time, since it’s the first time we’re both voicing cute roles, instead of watching and thinking “That’s cute” like I used to, I think “So that kind of cuteness exists too!” and it’s very educational and motivational.

And on a personal level, we’ve been in various projects together, but in Uchitama?! we spend a lot of time working together, and I’m happy to have more opportunities to talk. We’ve been chatting about random things more often too, like things we’ve eaten recently.

Q: Ono-san said you were “going through the same pain.” Do you think your common challenge of “acting cutely” has brought you closer together?

Soma: Yes. At the recording studio, all I have to say is “How about today?” and the meaning gets across…

Kensho: “How about today?” means “How are your vocal cords today? Can you go high pitch?”

Soma: What we’re going through is the same to the point where we can hold a conversation with just that. We say it every time, too *laughs*

Kensho: Yeah *laughs*

Soma: Conversations like, “How about today?” ‘Alright I guess.’ “Let’s do our best!” *laughs*

Q: So you’re sharing the same struggle behind the cuteness.

Kensho: It actually takes a great amount of effort. But I would’ve preferred it if people didn’t find out about that *laughs*

More than just cuteness!

Q: We’ve been asking about the secret to acting cute, but what do you think Uchitama?!’s other crucial elements besides “cuteness” and “healing” are?

Kensho: I think this is an aggressive project…

Soma: Same.

Kensho: It has scenes and parodies that make you go “They went that far?!” and “What’s the meaning of this?!” I think those parts are pretty aggressive.

Soma: At first, I heard that one of the concepts was “a soothing work,” so I thought it’d be a relaxing show about the daily lives of the animals. Which is true of course, but it’s not purely relaxing slice-of-life the whole time; there are some tricks in place too. Besides, “healing” comes in various forms; laughing and staring in silence are both valid. In that sense, it has some unexpected turns. I don’t think it’s a typical slice-of-life.

Kensho: It has comedic elements too, as well as cat and dog trivia. Like how cats will think that cars are warm in the winter. I hope viewers will take in those parts as well. If you watch until episode 2 or 3, I think you’ll understand the scope.

Soma: It does meet the expectations for a “cute, healing” show, while also appealing in ways beyond that. It has various angles to its approach that all make up Uchitama?!. Anyway, you’ll understand if you watch it.

Kensho: Get to episode 3 first. At least make it to episode 3!

Soma: *laughs*