Interview: Aki Naoe
Photography: Matias Nakanishi
Actually, there are many other jobs related to creating anime other than just drawing the artwork. In this series of articles, we'll be interviewing various people working in the anime industry.
In this, the third article in the series, we'll be speaking with Ishiguro, an audio production manager at Studio Mausu!
The main duties of an audio production manager are communication and scheduling
── Please tell us about what audio production companies do.
Ishiguro: Studio Mausu primarily handles audio production for anime and games, and we are in charge of both the technical aspect of voice recording and sound editing, as well as the business aspect of creating and following a schedule from the point of receiving the project from the client up until the finished product is delivered.
At other companies, they may also handle dubbing foreign media into Japanese and narration for TV programs and commercials.
── Where does your role as an "audio production manager" fit into this, Ishiguro?
Ishiguro: When I tell people I'm an "audio production manager," they tend to imagine that I do the voice recording, but the voice recording and selection of the music for different scenes is actually the job of the "audio production director." There are also specialized technicians who add in the special effects noises ("sound effect tech") and record and edit the audio ("mixer.")
Unlike these technical jobs, I'm an audio production "manager." The duties of an audio production manager are more office-related, mostly involving phone calls and email.
── So you don't actually create the audio, then?
In anime production companies, the people doing the same job as me are listed in the credits as "Production Assistant," which I think is a bit easier to understand. This was the job title of Aoi Miyamori, the protagonist of "SHIROBAKO," an anime about what it's like working for an anime production company. The only difference between that job and mine is that they're putting together images and I'm putting together sounds, so it might be easier to just think of my job as the audio version of "production assistant." In the case of audio production, one manager will be in charge of an entire season of 12 episodes or so. Maybe calling myself an "audio production assistant" would make it easier to picture what my actual job is. (laughs)
── Please tell us about the steps involved in an audio production manager's job.
Ishiguro: When it's for an anime, we have to choose an audio director, hold auditions, and decide the cast. Then I have to schedule the vocal recording around the production team and vocal cast's schedules. Afterward, I oversee the staff who piece together the recorded voice tracks, sound effects and music in time with the video, a process which we call "dubbing," and deliver the finished product to the client.
I'm in charge of managing the vocal recording and dubbing processes. The audio production manager's handling of the project can have a big impact on how smoothly it progresses. The voice actors are usually very busy, so it's necessary to get the timing just right.
── So the audio production manager is also in charge of auditioning the voice actors?
Ishiguro: I don't get to choose the voice actors, I'm just in charge of setting up the auditions.
For the main character, we hold an audition and the anime director, audio director, producer, and other people in charge all usually decide together. For the other characters, the audio director or audio production manager often gets to choose all the voice actors. For guest characters, I sometimes make up a list of candidates to suggest for the roles.
I also have to prepare the script. Once we get the storyboard from the anime production company, we confirm the details of the characters that appear in each scene and the number of lines they each have, then place an order with a bookbinding company to print copies of the script. The audio production manager is in charge of preparing anything that could possibly be necessary for the voice-recording and dubbing processes to run smoothly.
There are many other small tasks as well, but the majority of my job is arranging schedules. In order to record the voice tracks, I need to find times that work not only for the voice actors but also for the audio director and anime director as well.
── How many people are usually present for the vocal recording?
Ishiguro: Including the production staff and cast, it's usually around 20 people, but sometimes there are as many 40 people. Arranging a time when all of these people are available to come into the studio at once is the audio production manager's job.
── Are there ever times where it's just not possible to get everyone to come in at once?
── I've heard that voice actors often have their schedules completely full for an entire year in advance, is this true?
Ishiguro: Many of them are full up as much as 2 years in advance. We work with their schedules to plan things out far in advance. Sometimes we'll schedule a voice actor two years in advance and when the time comes everything goes perfectly according to plan, but it's more common for things not to work out so smoothly. Scrambling to reschedule is almost a daily occurrence.
── What do you do if it just doesn't work out and you can't get everyone to come on one day?
Ishiguro: In that case, we'll have to work with what we've got. For example, if there were supposed to have been 20 people and only 15 could make it, we'll go ahead and record with just those 15 people, and get the other 5 to come in at another time or day when they're able.
Especially now, with the COVID-19 pandemic still going on, things have been highly irregular as we try to press forward with vocal recording while drastically reducing the number of people present at any one time. Up to this point, we'd have everyone gather together for long periods of time and record everything all at once, but now we've had to divide it up and have people take turns coming in to record. In this way, we've been able to reduce the number of people gathering together, but because we've had to schedule many more recording sessions than usual, the schedule management has been much more difficult this way.
Even in the case of unexpected occurrences, it's our job to make adaptations so that the creators can continue working as normally as possible.
Working in the anime industry when you're not the creative type yourself
── Please tell me what you like about being an audio production manager.
Ishiguro: I think it's great that instead of only focusing on one title, I get to work on several different series at once.
If I were working for an anime production company, I would need to focus exclusively on a single series for 2 years or more. However, audio production takes only between 6 months and 1 year, so I can be involved with multiple projects in the time I'd spend on one at an anime production company.
It's not uncommon to be working on audio production for 3 to 4 series concurrently, so I get to meet with a wide variety of people including makers, producers, staff from the anime production companies, etc. It's a really good working environment for anyone who loves anime and games.
Every day at this job is like trying to solve a difficult puzzle. Sometimes you have to give up part way through and start over again from the beginning, but it's extremely satisfying once you get it all put together correctly.
── It must be fun being able to meet so many different people.
Ishiguro: I'm a "credits nerd," so I love reading the credits at the end of anime. As a fan myself, I often get excited being able to meet directors, producers, etc. who've worked on anime I've watched.
── Why did you decide to make anime your job instead of just a hobby?
Ishiguro: I think I'm the type of person who always wants to be surrounded by the things they like. I felt that if there was any kind of role in the anime industry that I would be suited for, I absolutely wanted to do it. Audio production manager may be a fairly behind-the-scenes position, but without someone doing this job, games and anime wouldn't exist.
I'm not creative myself, but I want to be involved with my passion, which is anime and games. Even now I still get really emotional seeing my own name in the end credits of an anime under "audio production manager," and when I first started this job I used to even take pictures of my name in the credits!
The job of audio production manager is a "hidden gem" in the industry
── Please tell me about your career path leading up to getting this job.
The first series I worked on after joining the company was "18if" produced by GONZO in 2017. I also got the chance to assist on "Fate/stay night: Heaven's Feel" at the same time. I remember feeling so happy that I was able to work on my favorite series immediately after joining the company. Since then, I've been in charge of all the series we do for ufotable.
── So you had absolutely no experience when you were hired?
Ishiguro: That's right. The position of audio production manager is a hidden gem in the industry where even those who aren't creative themselves can be involved with creating anime. Furthermore, there's no need to attend a technical college and learn any special skills to do this job. It's a role that anyone can learn to do if they apply themselves diligently.
I think there's a pretty even number of men and women in this position. You can easily keep doing this job for many years, but it's also possible to apply your experience and skills learned through doing this job to change careers later on if you want to.
── What positions do people often move to if they change careers?
I was already 35 years old when I changed jobs and entered this industry, but if you start working as an audio production manager in your 20's, you could become an audio director while you're still young, so that might be a good career path for those who want to work in the anime and game industry. That being said, this is also a job you can start mid-career after experiencing working in other fields, so it also shouldn't be a problem to change to this career after building some experience in the workforce first.
── Is Studio Mausu currently hiring?
"I spend most of my days overseeing either voice-recording or dubbing."
── Please tell us what an average day at your job might look like.
Ishiguro: I usually arrive at work around 10 am and leave between 7 and 9 pm. Depending on what I'm working on that day, I might get out early or I might have to work right up until the last train of the night. I'm usually pretty busy, but we don't do voice recording late at night, and there are no all-nighters with that kind of work. I do sometimes pull an all-nighter preparing for a recording session, though...
Once I get to work, the first thing I do is check my emails and do other desk work, after which I usually have either voice recording or dubbing scheduled. We have several studios set up in our office, but there are times when several different projects are being recorded on the same day, in which case we'll rent out another studio.
── What do you during voice recording sessions?
Ishiguro: I wait out in the lobby during recording sessions, mostly I make sure everything is progressing smoothly. For example, seeing out the people scheduled for the 10 am session and letting in the people scheduled for the 1 pm session, or calling people out of the studio when it's time for them to move to the next location. During the actual recording, I'm on standby, watching to make sure everything's running smoothly, and usually working on my laptop. I also often get tasked with the extremely important duty of fetching lunch for everyone (laughs).
── Do you ever have to go out to meetings at other companies?
What are the absolute necessities for audio production?
── What are the most valuable items an audio production manager needs to have with them at all times?
Ishiguro: The absolute necessities are a laptop computer, external hard disk and USB drive. I always carry these three items around with me.
The audio tracks we record in the studio are saved as data files. We use external hard disks and USB drives to transport the data. You never know when you might need to store data without warning, so I make sure I'm always prepared.
Ishiguro: The tape on my laptop computer and the keychain on my USB drive are our original merchandise.
Before becoming a separate company, Studio Mausu used to be a part of the voice actor management agency Mausu Productions, and the two companies still work together to create original merchandise. We create and sell original drama CDs and other items.
The drama CD series "Mausu Theater" contains not only original story material, but also recordings of the voice actors singing their own character's theme songs, which is quite rare. We also operate a store called "Mausu Shop" not far from our main office, so please come check it out!
── What kind of anime are you working on right now, Ishiguro?
Ishiguro: I was in charge of the series "Kakushigoto" that just finished airing in June. I'm also in charge of the series "Lapis Re:LiGHTs" which will begin airing in July. It's a teen anime featuring female pop singers who can use magic.
The 3rd installation of the movie "Fate/stay night: Heaven's Feel" will be released on August 15th. I definitely recommend going to see it in the theater so you can experience the 5.1ch sound. I was so moved while watching it be recorded that I actually cried! Sorry, that was the fan in me speaking... (laughs)
Right now we're currently working on the movie "Demon Slayer: Infinity Train" and the TV anime "Heaven's Design Team." I'm also concurrently working on several anime and games that have yet to be announced publicly.
I hope that the next time you watch anime, you'll check to see who's listed as the "audio production manager." Whoever it is, they probably worked very hard!