California native Maxwell Powers, 37, received a scholarship to study in Tokyo 18 years ago and soon got into the world of emceeing and voice acting. His website claims, “His voice has most likely been heard in some form by every person in Japan over the last 17 years.”
1. Your Instagram bio refers to you as the “voice guy in Tokyo.” Can you give me three words to describe that voice? Deep, distinctive but versatile.
2. What does being the “voice guy” entail? Voice acting, narrating, some translation work for media and commercials, and emcee work for media events and corporate gigs.
3. Is the work you do in Japanese or English? I started off doing English stuff almost exclusively, but I’ve been lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to do things in Japanese. My Japanese isn’t native level, so it takes a bit longer to get it right.
4. What anime characters are you voicing currently? There’s Genbu on “Shinkansen Henkei Robo Shinkalion” (“Transforming Bullet Train Robot Shinkalion”) and Rotom Drone on a “Pokemon” series.
5. What is Genbu like? Genbu is a baddie who becomes good, gets killed and comes back. Honestly, I think he was supposed to be a one-off character, but whatever I did with it resonated with fans and they brought me back. Twitter was going nuts about it.
6. And Rotom Drone? He’s like the official ring announcer for the main official matches that they do. I have ring-announcing experience and I’ve worked with some of the same people on a different show, so they thought I’d be good for the character.
7. Have you had any memorable experiences on either of those shows? The first time I went into the studio for “Pokemon,” I met the lady who voices Pikachu worldwide. I went in there without having done proper research, and I just heard her going “Pika, pika, pika!” into the mic. I was like, “Oh my God, it’s the actual Pikachu lady!” You only ever hear her make Pikachu noises, so she turns around and starts speaking in Japanese, and I thought, “Oh my God, she speaks different languages!”
8. What is the recording process for anime like? The best way I can describe it is that it’s like a ballet, all the voice actors are so well-trained. There are maybe six microphones standing in the studio and everybody’s just sitting down either nearby or further away in the back, depending on how many lines they have. Sometimes there are two to three people at one microphone, and they lean in and lean out. Everybody has rehearsed this so much by themselves already, they know exactly when to come in.
9. Do you watch the scene while doing this? The art is nowhere near done when we get the videos. It’s all just rough sketches, and it’s very hard to tell what’s going on unless you’ve watched it a couple of times and read all the directions in the margins of the scripts. So you’re trying to get the right tone and the right emotions down during that process, while also trying not to step on any toes, literally and figuratively.
10. Do things ever get tense? It’s an extremely stressful process, at least for me, because I have no anime training whatsoever and I’m just watching what everybody else does, trying not to screw things up. So we go through a rehearsal and then we get a few notes from the directors before we go for an actual recording. And then they go back and record anything else that they need to pick up because the tone wasn’t right or the timing was off or whatever.
11. How long does all of that take? I would say one 20-minute episode can take close to eight hours to complete. That’s if you have everybody in the studio at the same time, which, during COVID-19, we haven’t been able to do. There’s a lot of pressure not to screw up, but I’d take it over live emceeing any day.
12. Why is that? Because it’s the exact same thing, except there are no retakes. It’s all 100% live and you really can’t screw up.
13. How do you rehearse for an emcee gig? For the emcee, those rehearsals are more about figuring out who needs to be on stage and where, and the timing of the cameras. Very little attention is paid to what the emcee is doing — they’re supposed to be on top of that all the time. You’re there to make everybody else look good, not be like “Hey, check me out, I’m this awesome guy!” You have to be competent, yet invisible.
14. Do you ever have to ad lib? All the time. The bane of my existence is when someone who is supposed to be on stage goes missing, so the stage manager motions for me to kill time. One of the worst events I ever did was an international competition with 50 people from all over the world on stage, and a company president was supposed to announce the winner, but he was nowhere to be found. So I had to kill time by improvising.
15. Live emceeing really keeps you on your toes, then? It’s live, so anything that can go wrong will go wrong. I just have to hope for the best and expect the worst — and also be prepared for the worst.
16. You were at the closing ceremony or the Paralympics, how was it? It was really nice. It was interesting to be in a brand new stadium with very few people in it, they were taking COVID-19 very seriously. It really was a privilege to be a part of a tradition that’s been going on since ancient Greece.
17. What did you do at the ceremony? I got the opportunity to present the I’mPossible Award alongside three-time Paralympic gold medalist Miki Matheson. It’s an extremely impressive program that raises awareness for para-sports and diversity within schools, helping kids from an early age to be more understanding of people with different disabilities and special needs.
18. Speaking of COVID-19, how has the pandemic affected your work? As far as emcee work goes, there are a lot of video production companies that are doing events over Zoom or YouTube Live or what have you. And there are a lot of event companies that are trying to create video content for award ceremonies.
So I would get a job where I’m in a studio with a green screen, wearing a tuxedo or something, the cameras are panning down on cranes and it’s all well lit and I’m styled up with makeup and all this great stuff. And I would be saying into the camera, “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this year’s …” and then I say whatever “this” is. “We’re here using the latest technology due to COVID-19 to bring you this award ceremony!”
19. How has it been with anime acting? With anime, they keep it to four or five people in the studio at a time, and there are disinfection breaks. And so for the producers, directors and everyone who has to be there for the entire thing, it probably takes two to three times longer to get everybody’s takes in the bag.
But there are a lot of studios that don’t take it seriously. So it’s really up to you to protect yourself and make sure that you don’t give it to anybody else.
20. What do you love most about your job? Honestly, everything. The unpredictability that I complain about is also exciting. I’ve lived in Japan for 18 years now and it’s a country I love and want to give back to. I want to help Japan and the world understand each other and communicate better.
Fore more information on what Maxwell Powers is up to, visit maxpowervoice.com.
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