Source: © The Anime Man

Interview with The Anime Man: On Voice Acting in Pop Team Epic and More

To anime fans, he probably needs no introduction. The Japanese-Australian YouTube personality Joey Bizinger, known throughout the anisphere as The Anime Man, is probably the most recognizable name in the anime-focused YouTube community, his channel boasting over 1.5 million subscribers at the time of writing. As anime has become more mainstream internationally, his fan base continues to grow, attracted to his videos in which he discusses and reviews anime, as well as other aspects of Japanese culture, all in an irreverent and humorous style.

In addition to creating popular videos on his channel, The Anime Man keeps busy with appearances at anime conventions (for example, Anime Expo in LA and NicoNico Choukaigi in Japan) and voice acting. In fact, he has the distinction of being the first male YouTuber to voice act in a Japanese anime, Pop Team Epic, earlier this year.


Interview

We sat down with The Anime Man at a coffee shop in Shinjuku to find out more about the unique set of circumstances and experiences that contributed to his success, his experience voice acting in Pop Team Epic and his thoughts on the Japanese voice acting industry.

The Man Behind The Legend: Aussie Upbringing

  • grape Japan (gJ): Can you tell me first a bit about your background, your upbringing.
  • The Anime Man (Joey): My mom’s Japanese, my dad is Hungarian-German, but I was born and raised Australian. My mother really wanted me to hold on to my Japanese side. Living in Australia, it’s so easy to forget a language because everyone is speaking English around you. So, from a young age, my mother would only speak to me in Japanese and every year I would go and visit my family here in Japan. I think I was four years old when my mom showed me Doraemon for the first time. I saw it on TV when I was in Japan and I was infatuated with it. I was like: “What is this?” So, I guess from a young age I had a lot more interest in that side rather than my English side.
  • gJ: Did you watch anything other than Doraemon?
  • Joey: So, my mom would bring home this box of VHSs, not only Doraemon but also all the kids shows, Nintama Rantaro (Ninjaboy Rantaro), Ojarumaru, Crayon Shinchan and stuff like that. I would sit down in front of my TV and watch that all day, every day. There was one Doraemon movie that I probably saw close to 100 times. I learnt a lot of hearing Japanese just from that. That’s how I grew up until I was 10 or 11 years old. Then, I started to become interested in Japanese variety shows, so my grandma would tape the ones I used to like and send them to me.
  • gJ: Do you remember which ones?
  • Joey: I think one of the first ones I ever watched was Gaki no Tsukai (Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!!) just because it’s a very easy comedic variety show to digest, even for a kid. So, I would watch that, alongside watching anime. And then I would watch One Piece, more of the Shonen type shows and read manga at the same time.
  • gJ: What kind of manga were you in to?
  • Joey: I started with Doraemon and then I learned about CoroCoro Comic. So, I would read those and learn how to read and write Japanese as well. I would like to think that how I grew up in terms of how I consumed anime and manga was quite similar to how kids would do here. I think it’s like around eleven or twelve years old that we move on from CoroCoro to Jump, so I was in the same situation.
  • gJ: So, all your schooling was in Australia?
  • Joey: My schooling was kind of weird. In my elementary years, I went to this mixed school, Australian and Japanese. I was part of the international class. It was the same as Australian schools, but we would learn Japanese and it was this mixed culture. I was pretty into that school, but my parents weren’t, so they moved me to a regular Australian primary school. But then, I had no place to learn Japanese in a proper classroom setting, so they also sent me to a Japanese Saturday school. And I did that from the fourth grade all the way up until I graduated high school. I mostly went to Saturday school to meet Japanese kids who were living in Australia and become friends with them. I’m still friends with many of them to this day.
  • gJ: Wow, that’s great. So, you were able to create a social network of Japanese people.
  • Joey: Yeah, absolutely. I feel the Japanese community is so sparse, especially in Sydney, where I grew up. Sydney is so massive, it’s very hard to come across Japanese families unless you’re actively going to Japanese cultural meetings and stuff like that, which my parents do. And that helped. I took everything I learned, and I applied it to the real world in Saturday schools, with my friends, my teachers and my parents.
  • gJ: Were you as into anime and manga as your friends were?
  • Joey: I’d say I was. For kids in their early teens, especially boys, I think getting into manga, anime and games is a pretty normal thing, and it’s not until you get a little bit older that you start to shift away from that stuff… Whereas, as I got older I just got more and more into it (laughs). But yeah, when we first started, we would talk about the latest One Piece episode or the latest chapter of whatever or a game of some kind that we were into, I just kept exploring because I liked the culture, whereas they, I guess, slowly started to integrate in to the Australian way of life? So, they got less interested in Japanese…

From School Project to YouTube Channel

  • gJ: That takes us all the way up through middle school. So, what happened afterwards?
  • Joey: What happened afterwards? (laughs) I went to a predominantly white, all-boys high school. I was basically the only kid who had any Asian blood in him. So, naturally, I was the only one who knew anything about manga, who knew anything about anime.
  • gJ: So, how was that like?
  • Joey: I didn’t really mind, because I didn’t really tell anyone until maybe like the ninth grade. But that whole time, I think I was consuming it in my own privacy, in my own room.
  • gJ: Was anime a conversation starter in high school? Did it make you more popular?
  • Joey: Oh no, it was definitely not popular. I think one of my friends at the time found out about anime, probably because he was “an avid user of the Internet.” So, he was like: “Hey, Joe, you’re Japanese, do you know anything about this like ‘anime’ thing?” “Well, I’m glad you asked…” And I introduced a few of my friends who were like that into anime and they immediately got into it. During high school, I was much more into music. I was in a ton of bands, I played a ton of instruments. But as I started to introduce my friends to more and more anime, that side of me got a lot bigger. I think it was in eleventh grade or twelfth grade—I was like 16 years old—one of my assignments in my school was to create a website. So, I was like: “Oh, I might as well do a website about something that no one else is really going to do.” I made a website on anime just for the school project, but I liked it so much to the point that after that assignment ended, I just kept it going as a hobby and I made these horrible anime reviews. They barely qualify as reviews nowadays.
  • gJ: Do you remember some of your first reviews?
  • Joey: Yeah, I did a review on this really obscure anime called Serial Experiments: Lain, which is a ten out of ten anime for me. I absolutely love it.
  • gJ: It has lots of fans…
  • Joey: It was a horrible review. So, yeah, I did that. But I wanted to keep the website going and actually publish it. So, I needed to figure out a URL name. And at the time, all these anime blog websites were like anime something dot com. “But all the good ones are taken. So, what am I going to call it… Well, I’m a man who likes anime… the Anime Man.” So, I made theanimeman.com, which is still up to this day. You can still look it up, I mean don’t (laughs) but you can still look it up, it’s still up there.
  • gJ: Wait, what year is this?
  • Joey: This is 2010, I think, I started this 2010 or 2009, maybe something like that. And then 2013 came a long and I went to Sydney University. And, at that point, I had already done it as a secret hobby. I mean, I didn’t tell anybody I kept this going… for like three something years. And I gained a decent amount of traction. Like, I started to get regular visitors onto my website.
  • gJ: Did you already have the YouTube channel at that time?
  • Joey: No, not yet. At that point, it was just a blog. But I got regular visitors, I guess you can call them fans. Bu then, I posted a few video reviews onto YouTube so I could link them back to my website. I called my channel The Anime Man, from that website. But then, I got more and more traction from the YouTube side of things and I got more and more interested in video production, because that was also part of a course that I was learning at university at the time. I was learning how to video edit. And I really enjoyed that course. So, I slowly started to distance myself from the blog and started to focus more on video production on my channel, and five years later, here I am.
  • gJ: When did you move to Japan?
  • Joey: I did a Bachelor of Design Computing. It’s basically a design course, but everything on the computer. So, website design, video editing, as I mentioned, graphic design, audio design, stuff like that. I originally wanted to become a website designer, a graphic designer. And by the time I graduated, my channel had grown to the point that I was basically doing it full time. But the problem is that Australia has some of the worst internet in the world. I was planning to move to Japan anyway, because getting an IT job knowing both Japanese and English is just a huge advantage in Japan, but instead of doing that, I went ahead and did this full time … Who knew? (laughs). So yeah, I moved around two years ago. May of 2016.
  • gJ: You explained how The Anime Man started on YouTube. Was there a moment you would identify as a turning point in the channel?
  • Joey: Yeah, there was this one video that I did. I think I didn’t have 100,000 subscribers yet and just on a whim, I decided to make this video called “Seven Types of Anime Fans” because I had seen this picture on Dorkly entitled The 8 Types of Anime Fans You’ll Meet which I thought was kind of funny. So, I took inspiration from that. For some reason, the video went viral, and it got to the point where I was getting like 100,000 subscribers in a month. That one video basically blew me up from 100,000 subscribers to 600,000 subscribers in a matter of a year. And luckily, people didn’t just watch that one video and go away. They actually stayed and were like: “Oh, this guy makes other videos which are kind of cool.”
  • gJ: Already at the time, were you doing different types of videos?
  • Joey: I started video rants, which someone on my website proposed I should do and I still do that to this day. The landscape of anime YouTubing at the time was very episode review and chapter review-based. But I wanted to talk more about anime as a whole, as well as the culture surrounding it. Japanese culture was already something that was so ingrained in my heritage and so interesting for me, so that motivated me. That’s how I got my start. And I guess the seven types of anime fans was just that, combined with a bit of comedy. I look back at it now and it’s absolute cringe.
  • gJ: Do you think your comedic sense was developed by the Japanese variety shows you watched when you were younger?
  • Joey: I think so. I think a lot of it was inspired by Japanese comedy acts and stuff like that. Also, my father is very Australian. He likes sarcasm, satire and things like that, and I love that kind of humor as well. I loved watching stuff like Monty Python and that kind of satire, surrealist comedy. So, it was kind of a mix of that and the Japanese variety comedy.
  • gJ: I have a question about the style you use in a lot of your shows. You tend to very lovingly dis people out. The kind of language you like to call your subscribers. I can understand it’s all in a very affectionate way but…
  • Joey: Yeah, are you referring to the fact that I call my subscribers “lovely motherfuckers”?
  • gJ: Basically (laughs).
  • Joey: I mean, that is unofficial. I said it once and it kind of stuck, so I’m like: “Alright, whatever.” It’s an unofficial way…
  • gJ: Have you ever gotten any flak for that?
  • Joey: Oh, absolutely. But very early on, I learned that it doesn’t matter what you say. Haters are going to hate you. That’s the nature of making public content on YouTube, and in my case, making many videos that start discussions, videos that are very two-sided when it comes to arguments. I figure that there’s no point trying to make everyone happy because that’s something impossible to do. I can’t create this persona on camera like a lot of YouTubers can. They don’t want to offend people. They want to show their best. But I figured there’s no point in me trying to show that I’m this perfect human being because even if I did act like that, people who hate me are still going to hate me. There’s that Kurt Cobain quote: “I’d rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I’m not.” And that’s basically how I act on camera as well. I’m like: “This is me, and if you don’t like me, sorry.”
  • gJ: Would you say that you’ve had this style the whole time or it’s something that’s still growing?
  • Joey: It’s definitely changed. I mean, five years ago, I was extremely awkward on camera, very quiet. The first year of YouTube videos, I hated editing because I hated hearing my own voice in my ears. I think every YouTuber starts out like that regardless of how they act on camera. But I think I’ve learned to understand what is considered too far. So, I’ll act like I always do but that doesn’t mean I’m going to be 100% transparent about how I feel about a certain thing just because I want to let people know about it. I mean, I try my best, but I obviously understand that there is such a thing as going too far.

Landing a Role In Pop Team Epic

(C) bkub Okawa / (C) Takeshobo Co., Ltd. / (C) King Records Co., Ltd.

  • gJ: Now, I’d like to ask how you found yourself in the enviable position of being a voice actor in a very popular anime, Pop Team Epic, and the trail of events leading up to that.
  • Joey: I found out about Pop Team Epic like everyone else did, which is just from the very famous image of the [high school girls with] the two middle fingers. I found out that it was a manga, so I’m like: “OK, cool, I’ll go and read it.” And I immediately loved it. I thought it was so dumb that it was genius. I did a video reviewing the manga because I realized that no one was really talking about it overseas. Then, I was at this business party run by some people at Viz Media. I met some people from King Records there, and I introduced myself like: “I talk about anime on the internet.” We got onto the topic of Pop Team Epic, and I’m like: “I did a video on Pop Team Epic. I love it!” And they were like: “Oh, ok, that’s really cool. Maybe we can work together on something.” I’m like: “Yeah, that would be awesome.” I thought maybe they’d ask me to make a video promoting the Pop Team Epic anime or something like that. But then, about a week later, I got an email asking: “Do you want to be a voice in it?” And I was like: “Why would I say no?”
  • gJ: I have no idea why… (laugh)
  • Joey: Why would I say no? I mean, I was ok with just promoting the show, but if I could be on the show? Hell, yeah! So, I ended up in the studio, voice acting next to Murase Ayumu, who is massive and is a voice actor I’ve known for quite a while. It was just very bizarre to be in a studio, basically, recording… voice acting with all of these professional voice actors.
  • gJ: He was the role of young Joseph, right?
  • Joey: He was young Joseph, yeah. So, it was very bizarre. And it was even more bizarre that Murase-san would turn to me and ask for advice on how to pronounce things in English. I’m like: “This is weird. I’m the one who should be asking advice from you and not the other way around.”
  • gJ: Had you had any experience voice acting before that. I know you did a project with Grisaia…
  • Joey: Yeah, I did, but before that, I had done some like indie projects just off YouTube. I voice acted for this pretty big animation-based YouTuber called Domics. I did an episode on his channel where I voice acted in Japanese and that boosted my name as a voice actor. I also did small projects with some indie games and stuff like that. But my first proper voice acting gig was the Grisaia game, and then, I guess they found out about that in some way or another and then they were like: “Oh, this guy can actually voice act, so we’ll put him in.”
  • gJ: That probably helped, right? They knew that you had this experience…
  • Joey: Yes. I mean, the Grisaia one was even weirder because Frontwing, the creators of Grisaia, randomly emailed me out of nowhere being like: “Hey, we saw that you played our game three years ago on your channel. Do you want to be in the next game?” It was like a huge jump. I’m even surprised that they found those videos because they’re years old at this point in my very awkward stage on YouTube. So, I managed not only to voice myself in the game but also cameo myself? Like, my character was in the game…
  • gJ: Oh, so there’s a character based on you in the game?
  • Joey: Yeah, yeah, so the Grisaia games are episodic and they were recording episode four at the time, and at the end of each episode or each game, they do a little trailer of the next game. I was in the trailer as this YouTuber that one of the characters in the series watches on a regular basis.
  • gJ: Interesting. That’s very meta.
  • Joey: It is very very meta. So, yeah, I managed to be in that, which is really really cool.
  • gJ: Would you also say that your experience in music contributed? I mean, were you also singing in bands?
  • Joey: I was a singer in a few bands in high school, but I never really got proper voice training or singing training. My mom was a choir singer for church, and she was a properly trained singer. She never taught me, but I listened and learned from her. Also, from a young age, I always liked making noises, impersonating voices and stuff like that. With my gaming videos on YouTube—I don’t do them anymore, but I did at the time—I had to create voices for the characters in the game. Instead of just reading them all in my normal voice, which I thought was boring, I thought: “Oh, I might as well have some fun with it. There’s a girl character? I’ll try my best to make a girl voice.” I think that definitely helped.
  • gJ: With Pop Team Epic, it was your first time in the recording studio in an anime situation, right? I think you explained on your YouTube channel that with Grisaia, it was different because you were just alone in the studio?
  • Joey: Yeah, because it’s a visual novel. You’re the only one on the screen at any one time. When I recorded for Grisaia, I was just in a room with a microphone and a script in front of me, just voicing it. Whereas, in anime, you have to voice in time with the animation that’s already been made. That was the first time I ever had to do that. and I managed to do it somehow.
  • gJ: Can you tell us how the experience was, for the first time having to see animation with no voice, no sound…?
  • Joey: When I saw the animation, I immediately assumed there’s was going to be a voice coming out of it. But then in the back of my mind I was like: “No, I’m the one that has to fill in that gap.” So, it was very strange. And was even stranger to do that with someone like Murase-san standing next to you doing the same thing. Having to voice act with not only people in the studio but other people in the same room was very nerve-racking.
  • gJ: I can imagine…
  • Joey: Yeah, but they said I was pretty good, so, I was like: “I’ll take it.”
  • gJ: Were there retakes, I mean…?
  • Joey: I did one retake, but other than that, the director was like: “You were good.” So I’m like: “Cool.” I don’t know if I fluked that, or whatever, but hey…
  • gJ: You’re a natural.
  • Joey: Even Murase-san was like: “You’re really good.” And I’m like: “That is an honor. I’ll take that.”
  • gJ: Which means that you probably have more voice acting in your future.
  • Joey: Hopefully, yeah. I would definitely like to get into that a lot more. One side of me wants to do it because I love it, but the other side of me wants to represent, or show the world that a predominantly English-speaking voice actor can make a name for himself in the Japanese voice acting industry. I want to be the first person who can be like: “I can do English and Japanese voice acting.”

Voice Acting in Japan

  • gJ: Do you have any advice for people who are coming to Japan or already live here and want to break into the anime industry doing voice work, based on your experiences?
  • Joey: It’s hard, considering I haven’t exactly broken in myself. But having had at least one foot in the door, I can say it’s very tough. There are obviously many stereotypes and stigmas in the industry which you need to overcome but I feel you should just show them what you can do, and not worry about that. One thing about the anime industry which I’m not a huge fan of is that they are very old-fashioned, very traditional. They are not prone to change that much.
  • gJ: Is that a general feeling or do you have specifics?
  • Joey: For example, the fact that they rely on DVD sales when no one uses DVDs nowadays. It’s the age of digital streaming and Japan doesn’t have a digital streaming service yet. Yet they still rely on DVD and Blu-ray sales, which I think is very old-fashioned. There is a massive audience out there that wants it digitally but has no way of getting it legally because the industry doesn’t want to budge. Voice acting is like that as well. They’re afraid to explore, I guess, with foreign voice actors because they’ve never dealt with them before. I don’t know, I feel there just needs to be someone who steps in and says: “Open your eyes, things are changing. This isn’t the 80s and 90s baburu jidai (age of the bubble economy) anymore. You need to change things up!” They’re also blind to the fact that the industry is kind of going downhill with their traditional methods. “So, do something different! The rest of the world is doing different stuff. You guys have to catch up as well.”
  • gJ: Well, hopefully, you’ll be part of the force contributing to that change…
  • Joey: I hope so, I definitely hope so…
  • gJ: Do you have a particular image in mind, in an ideal world, of what your next appearance as a voice actor would be? What kind of anime would it be? What kind of part would it be?
  • Joey: Oh, I don’t know, really. I’d be happy to just voice act in anything right now, to get the experience, but I definitely would like to do more Japanese voice acting, if anything… The animation that I did on YouTube for Domics’ channel was in Japanese and I was kind of known for that. People were like: “Wow, this guy can actually voice act in Japanese, and he kind of sounds like he’s from an anime.” So, I was like: “Cool, that’s nice, I’ll take that.” So, I want to show that to the Japanese voice acting industry, and say: “Yes, I am an English speaker but I’m also fluent in Japanese and I’ve practiced enough in Japanese voice acting that I think I can at least stand on equal ground with actual Japanese people, actual Japanese voice actors.” I just want the opportunity to show that, not just to the Japanese audience but mostly to the industry. I’m like: “People like me exist and it’s a waste that you don’t take these kinds of people or at least try it with these kinds of people.”
  • gJ: Thanks very much for your time.
  • Joey: Thank you!

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