The Unforgettable Chemistry Between Anime, Music and Characters - Interview to ”Bocchi the Rock!” voice actresses, Yoshino Aoyama and Saku Mizuno.

Here is another interview series of The TV animation, ”Bocchi the Rock!”. Yoshino Aoyama voiced the guitarist Hitori Goto, and Saku Mizuno voiced the bassist Ryo Yamada, they are the casts that gave life to the world of ”Bocchi the Rock!”. The duo wrote lyrics and composed music for the band "Kessoku Band," which appeared in this animation, and this time we had a photo shoot under the image of ”Kessoku Band”. Check out the unique images of Aoyama and Mizuno in the grunge version, as well as their abundant talk about their love for ”Bocchi the Rock!”

Response from Overseas Fans

—The response from the audiences of this animation series has been tremendous even now, after the last episode is over. How do you feel about it now frankly?

Aoyama: Many people told me that they were watching the anime while it was airing, but now that it's over, I feel that they are EVEN MORE excited about it. I think this is because the Kessoku Band album ("Kessoku Band") was released, along with the Blu-ray and DVD. When I saw the album reaching No. 1 on the music chart, I realized for the first time that so many people were watching and listening to this album. It made me think that "Bocchi the Rock! " is the center of popular trends.

Mizuno: Since the album came out, we have heard not only "I saw the animation" but also "I bought the album of Kessoku Band". We also found that Kessoku Band has been ranked in the distribution charts and karaoke rankings. I am extremely happy to be able to feel the response from the audience directly.

—There are also good comments from overseas on YouTube, aren't there?

Aoyama: Yes, there are, and the number of comments from overseas on Instagram has also increased significantly.

Mizuno: Yes, there has been an increase.

Aoyama: Even if Im not so good at English, I feel that they like this animation very much judging. It's funny because even overseas they keep the original title "Bocchi the Rock! (BOCCHI ZA ROKKU)'' It's interesting, isn't it? It is strange that BOCCHI-chan has become a character that is accepted overseas as well. The word "BOCCHI" does not mean just being ”alone”. It is a word with a strong sense of ”loneliness”. I am looking forward to seeing if the word "Bocchi'' will become a meme overseas in the future (laughs).

Mizuno: That makes me even happier!

Aoyama: I wouldn't feel good if someone pointed at me and said "BOCCHI" (laughs). But I didn't think such a new culture would be born from "Bocchi the Rock!”, so now Im proud of myself that Im a part of the new culture.

Mizuno: My friend told me that "Bocchi the Rock!” was ranked No. 1 in the anime ranking on an overseas website. I like Western music, and although I don't understand all the lyrics, I listen to it because the music is cool. In the same way, people from overseas who haven't watched the animation of "Bocchi the Rock!” but who just listened to the music of the animation and they enjoyed it. I think that is even better. When I think about it, I feel that the power of music is amazing.

— In English, there is another word for "Geek," but it is a bit difficult to explain the concept of "INKYA (introvert)” to people overseas.

Aoyama: It is unique to Japan, isn't it? Things like a Japanese style closet, Oshi-Ire, are part of Japanese culture. I feel that this animation has somehow led to the spread of the concept of Japanese culture.

Mizuno: Cup Sake (the sake which is in a cup and sold at the vending machine) is also a part of this culture you mentioned, right? (laughs).

Aoyama: Indeed. There is a bottleneck technique (in guitar), but I don't think there has ever been Cup-Sake technique in the past.

Mizuno: There is no such thing (laughs).

Aoyama: I wonder if people overseas play guitar with a Smirnoff Vodka bottle.

Mizuno: That's cool though (laughs).

Aoyama: It makes it more fashionable, doesn't it? (laughs).

Mizuno: Some foreigners might buy "Onikoroshi (the brand name of Sake in the animation) " as a souvenir from Japan in the future.

Aoyama: Ah, indeed! I hope they like it.

Relation to Band Culture

–In the first place, did you two have any experiences relating to band activities and/or experienced live music culture before you appeared in "Bocchi the Rock!” ?

Aoyama: The main character, Bocchi, has never played in a band at all and shes never listened to music from the perspective of whether she could become popular or not. So in the first episode, ”Bocchi Rolling”,Bocchi felt fear when she visited the live house, STARRY, with Nijika Ichiji. I felt the same thing. People who play in a rock band seem to be a little bit delinquent. They look flashy, and you might not be able to approach them casually, like ....... I think I was similar to Bocchi-chan.

—Aoyama-san, Have you ever played the guitar before the YouTube guitar project ("Road to Guitar Hero")?

Aoyama: I had never touched a guitar at all. In that project, I was given a guitar and asked to learn how to play "Seishun Complex. It was a tenacious project. All the post recording was done, but we started without knowing how much Bocchi-chan was portrayed as a guitar prodigy.

Mizuno: I have some experience with guitar. When I was in elementary school, a rock musician taught me how to play the guitar, and the first kind of guitar I touched was an electric guitar, which got me hooked on playing guitars. I also tried playing the bass guitar once, but it took me a long time to learn how to play it, and I didnt continue. But I was able to play rock guitars rather smoothly. I joined a band when I was in high school, but we were in the countryside, so there were not many places to practice, but I made friends with the band members and also got closer to the studio staff.

At that time, I felt a connection that only people in a rock band can have, and I thought it was similar to the relationship between Nijika and Ryo Yamada. Ryo-san says out of the blue things that other people might wonder what she is talking about, but she and Nijika are able to rally around each other due to their connection with each other. It is like a family, isn't it?

— I see. So you were able to use your experience of learning guitar and playing in a band in this animation?

Mizuno: I think so. I had hoped to be able to use some of my experience of playing music in a band someday, so I am glad I was able to. I played in a band once at a school cultural festival.

Aoyama: That is exactly like ” Bocchi the Rock!”

Mizuno: It was a girls' band, and I made a band with my classmates. There was a girl who played drums, and she knew that I could play guitar, so she asked me to join her. We played guitar, drums, and keyboards, and I was the singer, too.

Aoyama: That's cool! You were a real band member!

Mizuno: That's not true (laughs). But I was really nervous. At the scene of the school festival in this anime, there were a lot of people. In reality, I don't think it is very common to have that many people gathered, so I was really impressed by Kessoku Band.

— In the latter half of the series, there was the story of the school's Cultural Festival. It was a really great episode, wasn't it? I myself played in a band, and had a live performance at a Cultural Festival when I was in high school, so I felt nostalgic of the tension, excitement, and the atmosphere of the day by watching the episode.

Aoyama: I was very moved. The entire cast watched the final episode, "Kimi ni Asa ga Fururu" (Morning Comes Down to You) together. Normally, the story starts with the opening song or the title of the episode, but the 12th episode started with the performance. I was first impressed by the fact that it set up the viewers to feel as if they were spectators at the Shuka High School Culture Festival. Starting that scene is very crafty. Then, in the performance scene, they added the school scene and the scene where Bocchi was a slug in the corner in the background. ”Bocchi the Rock!” is a story of Bocchi-chan's coming-of-age story, but it is also a story of the life of Kessoku Band, and I thought it was really good that it didn't go too far in either direction. I was crying so hard.

Mizuno: Yes. I did, too.

Aoyama: Seriously, everyone was crying. But everyone was so focused on the animation and thought that only they were crying. When the commercial break came, they realized that others were crying. It was really funny. It was like a graduation ceremony.

Mizuno: On the lyric card of Kessoku Band album, there are four colored circles representing each member, and as you turn the page, the three members get closer and closer, but only Bocchi-chan's color can't get closer, but eventually the four get closer. When I saw the scene of the Cultural Festival in the last episode, I felt that there was still a sense of loneliness from Bocchi-chan.

Aoyama: She is a little apart from everyone else.

Mizuno: That's right. When I saw that, I thought that Bocchi-chan was still feeling alone, but the story itself ended with the continuation of daily life after that. I felt that the story ended with the four of them coming together in the end, which made the story more touching.

Aoyama: (laughs) Normally, it would have ended the story with the bang with a scene of the school festival live performance. However I was surprised when I received the script that the performance scene was just in part A and they included a scene of part B where everyone goes to buy musical instruments together. I think a live performance is something special for a band. Musicians spend their usual everyday lives for special occasions. I can imagine that by ending with that scene of going shopping, that shows this band will be moving on to something new and special. If it ended with the live scene, it would end up being special. But the fact that there is still room to imagine the hope that something special might be waiting for them is truly divine.

Mizuno: I cried during the live performance scene, laughed during scenes of their daily lives, and cried again at the end.

Aoyama: I don't think there is any animation that ends with the line, "Another day at work, huh?” I think that was the best final episode ever.

Yoshino Aoyama and Saku Mizuno Talk about The Happy Relationship Between Anime and Bands

Photo by Mitsuru Nishimura

Animation Expression Beyond the Imagination

—I love the various deformations of the characters in "Bocchi the Rock!”, but you had not yet seen them during recording. How did you feel when you saw the actual animation?

Aoyama: I was very surprised. In the script, there is a note at the top that says "Hitori Goto will become a polygon and fly to the edge of the universe.” There were so many lines that I wondered what they meant, but when I saw the tv broadcast, it really was exactly as written in the script.

Mizuno: (laughs) It was amazing, wasn't it?

Aoyama: I think it was written "being in a trance" in the scene where Bocchi-chan thinks about how to divide the ticket quota among her father, mother, sister, and dog. But I didn't think it would turn out like that. When we were dubbing, both Akiko Fujita, the sound director, and I would try out various plays based on our expectations of how the scene would turn out. Everytime we recorded, we asked the Director, Keiichiro Saito, to stay and asked for the acting direction for every episode. He gave us instructions like "This picture is going to be like this, so please do it like this.”

Mizuno: During the broadcast of the animation, the LINE chats of Kessoku Band were incredible, weren't they? People were like, "What was that?

Aoyama: Yeah, thats true. Suddenly the Haniwa, which looked like an octopus,started running, and the Tako-sen was live-action. It was like, "Wasn't that a live-action Tako-sen? (laughs)”. There are a lot of techniques being used in this animation, and I think that's one of the reasons for its popularity.

Mizuno: That's right. I have always been an anime fan and have watched a lot of anime, but this was the first time I saw the live-action in the anime. It was shocking.

— It has exceeded your imagination.

Aoyama: That's right. This anime easily exceeded my expectations. Nijika's choice of words and commentary were very interesting, and the post-recording process was not simple, so we spent a lot of time on each recording. I was confident that the audience would find it interesting even if they heard only the voices without pictures. So if the interesting pictures were added to the voices, it would definitely be even more interesting. I think I had confidence in that. It was truly fun.

Mizuno: Yes, It was really enjoyable!

—Were there many side notes in the screenplay of the scene where Bocchi-chan is watching SICK HACK's live performance?

Aoyama: Just before recording, the director gave me three or four A4 sheets of paper and said, "Please read this because it won't fit in the script," and I read it.

—Bocchi's comments on the songs were also very accurate. She was commenting like a real music critic (laughs).

Aoyama: Really (laughs). It was like she was talking with her arms folded in the back of a live house.

— Isn't it one of the best parts of being a voice actor to see what happens when your voice is combined with the animation?

Mizuno: Yes, it is. It made me very happy to see what we had done come to life in the pictures and make them even better.

Aoyama: When I played the guitar the song "Guitar, Solitude, and Blue Planet" for the live concert scene in episode 8("Bocchi the Rock!"), I was quite shaky. The vocalist Ikuyo Kita, played by Ikumi Hasegawa, dubbed her vocal scene while she was recording the lines, so there was a lot of tension in the studio. The drums were a little sluggish, and the guitar was not in tune at all. The vocals also expressed the feeling of being on edge.

During recording, Ms. Hasegawa suddenly is asked by the directors, "Can you sing today? and she said, "Oh, you mean now?” and she was suddenly handed the lyrics and a music stand brought into the recording booth, then the music was played, and she sang live for the first take!

The first take of the song was used in the animation. We were watching it from the side room. We couldn't even say "good luck," we just watched it happen with our own eyes. It was very tense, and even though we were not singing, our hands were shaking. You can feel the atmosphere of that time in the animation, and many people said they couldn't watch it anymore (laughs).

Mizuno: (laughs).

Aoyama: It is so realistic that it boggles my mind, too.

— I didn't know there was such a behind-the-scenes story.

Aoyama: I was also very particular about the acting. As I mentioned earlier, we spent a lot of time, and there was a lot of pressure for this animation. I later heard that the sound director, Mr. Fujita said that she wanted to make Bocchi's fear of everything look realistic, which made sense to me. I am glad that Ms. Fujita was the sound director. If it wasn't for her, I probably wouldn't have been able to create that atmosphere. Everyone was a little nervous.

Mizuno: That's right. In a good way.

Aoyama: Yes. I feel that the combination of Kodawari (the obsession) and the pressure toward the cast created a sense of reality. Under such a condition, Saku, you were the youngest of all casts. How was playing Ryo-san who is a very eccentric character?

Mizuno: Compared to the other members of the cast, I was allowed to play her more freely. At first, I was told that "you have to act like this because this is the kind of girl Ryo is," but that was almost completely stopped in the middle of the recording series.

Even though there were some retakes, I didn't feel pressured. I did get a lot of instruction for important scenes, such as the scene where Ryo taught the lyrics to Bocchi, but I think I didn't get many corrections for other daily scenes. Thanks to that, I was able to relax and even Ms. Fujita praised me for it. I get happy when I receive compliments, so I think I was able to play the role of Ryo in a way that felt right for me.

—Aa a character Ryo-san seems to be able to go at your own pace and not be afraid at any time, doesn't she?

Mizuno: That's right. Ryo seems to be at her own pace. I also go at my own pace (laughs).

The Thoughts and Feelings Became ”Music” during Dubbing and Recording

— The Kessoku Band's album reached No. 1 on the Oricon music charts and is being played on a lot of music streaming services . What do you think of this album from the listeners' point of view?

Aoyama/Mizuno: It's great (laughs).

Aoyama: Seriously, it's great. The production team's unparalleled confidence can be felt by the performers. Once you raise the bar to chase the quality of the music, it's hard to lower it, so I wasn't sure if I could perform this much anymore again. Now I feel I could have played even better. This album is still very good even without the category of just anime songs.

Mizuno: I play the role of Ryo and contribute to the chorus of most of the songs, and I listened to Ms. Hasegawa's vocals recorded in advance for each recording. I tried to accentuate the phrases of the songs as much as I could to Hasegawa's. Ms. Hasegawa puts a lot of feeling into her recordings, so I listened to her singing carefully each time and sang the chorus to match her feelings. The song, ”Flashbacker" had a slower tempo.

Aoyama: So you channeled Ryo. That's cool. I want to listen to it again right now.

— You played the guitar and recorded the vocals like real rock bands!

Mizuno: Yes (laughs). The vocals were sung live, not mixed. Ms. Ikumi (Hasegawa) is very good at it.

Aoyama: Her vocals are so powerful.

Mizuno: It's amazing, isn't it? Really.

Aoyama: I only sang "Rolling Rock, Morning Falls for You," so I had no idea what the other 13 songs on the album were like or how they would come together. It was only during the recording session that I learned that the song "That band" sounds like that. And I realized the song, "If I could be a constellation" is such a great song! It was a fresh and fun experience for me to know them as just a single listener.

Mizuno: I got to listen to the songs ahead of the others.

Aoyama: I am envious. It seems that the songwriting started 2 to 3 years ago. I can't keep such great songs quiet for 2 to 3 years if I could make them.

Mizuno: Indeed (laughs).

Aoyama: I would definitely want to tell people at my own personal live performances if I had written such a song. Everyone is amazing, and I think Ikumi Hasegawa is brilliant!

— Aoyama-san and Mizuno-san, you played the characters as songwriting members in this animation, right?

Aoyama: That's right. When I look at the lyrics of this album, I feel that Bocchi-chan is the one who wrote them. The actual lyrics were written by ZAQ and Ai Higuchi, but they wrote those songs as how Bocchi chan would create the music. So Bocchi-chans character is shaped by several different people. This band is singing the words that the characters would have written, not the words that someone else wrote. Thats something only a rock band can do. Playing original music for the animation is already very valuable, but it additionally makes it wonderful that the songs themselves are really good. People appreciate songs as is. Oh, Im getting so emotional….

Mizuno: (laughs).

Aoyama: I cannot really put it into words. I really think it's really great.

Yoshino Aoyama and Saku Mizuno Talk about The Happy Relationship Between Anime and Bands

Photo by Mitsuru Nishimura

Yoshino Aoyama and Saku Mizuno Talk about The Happy Relationship Between Anime and Bands

Photo by Mitsuru Nishimura

—Dont you feel that the lyrics written by the various songwriters and the backstory of the Kessoku Band help to shape Bocchi-chan's character clearly?

Aoyama: I think so. Especially the songs performed in the last episode ("Wasurenai Yaranai" and "Seiza ni Naru Naritareta"), I was more enthusiastic about the acting when I imagined to whom she was writing the songs. For example, I wondered if this song was written for Kita-chan, or imagined as if Ryo-san could have given her some opinions about music that Bocchi chan created. Or Nijika-chan is like a maternal character in this animation. I wonder how this song can be sung if the song was written for Nijika-chan, not for Kita-chan. I can imagine forever what the animation would be like. I hope our fans could enjoy imagining this animations backstories like I did. I enjoyed this kind of thinking during the recording sessions the whole time, and now Im really happy that I saw some comments or reviews about the animation which were discussing about the ideas of the backstory and/or imagination of the situation setting.

— Mizuno-san, You are the vocalist for "Karakara," but the lyrics and music were written by Ikkyu Nakajima of ”tricot”, right?

Mizuno: Yes. The first song I received was a tentative version sung by Ikkyu, it was supposed to be ”tentative” but it was already kind of completed when I heard(laughs). I tried to sing it as close as possible to Ikkyu's style, the slightly laidback feeling matched the personality of the character, Ryo. and the lyrics also have deep meaning.Like Yoshino (Aoyama)-san mentioned earlier, (to sing like the character) , I thought a lot about what it would be like if Ryo sang was this song for Nijika. I sang the song while thinking about it. I really like the phrase "I have to use up this life I'm borrowing". Ryo is ambiguous and elusive, but she has a lot of conviction toward her band. I sang this song thinking that Ryo-san knows how everyone in her band is thinking, including Nijikas dream. The part before the chorus is different between the first and the second, and so I put the emotion into the song a little differently. I would be very happy if you could notice these small details.

”tricot” also tweeted about this song on X (formerly ”Twitter”), didn't they?

Aoyama: They also posted a video of the song, didn't they?

Mizuno: It was a self-cover. It made me happy.

The Voice of "Bocchi-chan" and The Vocals of Yoshino Aoyama

ーAoyama-san, you have taken on another difficult mission, covering ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION`s ("Rolling Rock, Morning Comes Down On You"), haven't you?

Aoyama: That's right. I think it became quite meaningful. I wondered how I should sing this song that wasnt created for this animation, and already had a large fanbase. But the more I looked at the lyrics, the more I realized that this song could have been made by Hitori Goto for "Bocchi the Rock!". I thought the song reflected Hiroti Goto very well. (Laughs.) "Bocchi the Rock!” was a project that valued musicality more than characterization, but I didn't want to make it just a musical piece. I wanted to represent Hitori Goto`s personality, and not lose the quality of the songs. If we put too much importance on music, it could lose the character of Hitori Goto herself. The song "Rolling Rock, Morning Comes Down on You" was born out of the conflict which I should pursue to sing by mimicking the original singers style or the style of Hitori Gotos singing.

So, I don't think I could act the same way if I was asked to do it again. I was under a lot of pressure during the recording sessions, so that's how I felt during the recording as well. I was not sure if it was me or Hitori Goto performing, and I left the studio in a state of uncertainty. It's the same now, but when I'm doing Hitori Goto , I become her. I become unable to say, "Good morning," , or Like, "Oh, let's see, let's see, let's see....

Mizuno: Yes, yes..

Aoyama: (Laughs) Whenever Hitori Goto has a singing scene, it happens. During the recording session, I felt as if I had let Hitori Goto descend upon me and sang the song, so much so that I almost lost my social skills and could not go home properly.

Mizuno: I had heard Yoshinos song before, so I knew she was a very good singer, and I was really looking forward to the ending of the last episode when this song was played. I heard it for the first time in the anime, and the moment I heard the first note, I was like, "thats Bocchi!"

Aoyama: Wow, that makes me happy!

Mizuno: I thought "Bocchi(Hitori Goto)" was singing! That's how much you got into the song.

Aoyama: I am glad to hear you say so. I am really happy to hear that.

— I felt all the personalities of Hitori Goto, ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION and Aoyama-san came into the same mind perfectly.

Aoyama: That's right. I checked out ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION's Masafumi Goto's notebooks and podcasts, and I thought his spirituality really came out in his music. Since this song was a cover, I sang it thinking that I should never lose respect for the creator as well as for the original song. I am most relieved now that nobody didnt nudge me because of my singing this song(laugh).

— In the radio program "Bocchi the Radio!”, you mentioned that you were conscious of the fact that Bocchi (Hitori Goto) had never sung in a band before, so she probably didn't have much lung capacity. I was surprised that you were that particular about it.

Aoyama: I imagined she would have never been to karaoke or anything like that, and she would never have done improvisation. So I sang like someone who didnt prepare anything. That was a part of the direction of Gen Okamura-san, the music producer.

—By the way, I saw an online collaboration show between "Bocchi the Rock!” and Yamaha (music store). Aoyama-san, you were amazing! There is no one who can play 8 beats so well on the drums on the first try. You are a talented musician.

Aoyama: Really? They asked me to do it (laughs).

— (Laughs.) It's amazing that you can do what you were told to do.

Aoyama:If I couldnt have done well, it was bad… And it was a live broadcast.

Mizuno: It was indeed a live broadcast (laughs).

Aoyama: But the music store was a lot of fun. There were many easy to access tablets that showed the instructional videos, and all the videos were very beginner-friendly. Before I thought playing musical instruments was hard and difficult, but I think there would have always been a way to start learning. Now I encourage everyone to start playing musical instruments (laughs).

Yoshino Aoyama and Saku Mizuno Talk about The Happy Relationship Between Anime and Bands

Yoshino Aoyama

Yoshino Aoyama and Saku Mizuno Talk about The Happy Relationship Between Anime and Bands

Saku Mizuno

From Rolling Stone Japan