March 2013, the opening of the movie Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods. We asked Masako Nozawa-san, who you could call a living encyclopedia of Dragon Ball, to look back on Dragon Ball’s history!
Voice actress. Born in Tokyo. Affiliated with Aoni Production. Apart from Goku in Dragon Ball, she has had roles in a large number of other series, such as Dr. Kureha in One Piece and Tetsurō Hoshino in Galaxy Express 999.
[The voice of] Goku was decided by audition; at that time, I looked at the design illustrations on-site, and read the collected volumes. Looking at the pictures, Goku was incredibly cute.
In the time it takes me to get up to the mic, I can get right into the role. I’ve been doing it like that for years. I hear that Toriyama-sensei, who heard me speak Goku’s voice in that way, selected me himself, [saying,] “this person”. It really makes me happy that the creator chose me directly. At the time I was cast, I thought, “I’m glad I did this!” “I did it!” Of course, I had no idea at the time that it would continue for a quarter-century. (laughs)
The first time I met Toriyama-sensei was during the first [staff] party. At that time, I shyly asked Sensei for his autograph. So he drew me a picture of Goku with a tail… that, along with the one I had him draw for me at the final party, I submitted to the manuscript exhibition1. They are precious to me, though, so I do worry about them getting damaged.
With regards to getting into the role… I don’t read the comic beforehand. There are even comics of the story that we’ll be recording up ahead in the studio, but I’ve never once looked at them beforehand. If I look at it, I’ll find out things like what sort of villain is going to come out, right? I’m one with Goku, so I’d feel the same as him, and bring that out as-is in my voice: “What kind of guy is gonna come out… him?!!” If Masako Nozawa, knowing of later developments, were to play Goku, who did not know, a sense of dissonance would occur. I think a sense of unity is vital. Whenever someone else in the studio talked about future developments, the producer would jump up in a panic, and go tell them, “Don’t talk about that in front of Nozawa-san!” (laughs)
I predicted that Dragon Ball would be a hit. When we recorded the first episode, we made predictions about the ratings. Everyone else predicted lower numbers than for Arale-chan, but I said it would be higher. “Why are you all making that kind of prediction?! The show hasn’t even started yet, so have a little confidence!!” I thought, and in fact, [the ratings] were higher.
With respect to the movies as well, it was basically the same as usual, except for one thing. That thing is something I learned from the previous-generation Kanzaburō Nakamura-san2; on stage… or in my case, the screen or the theater, if you don’t alter your delivery to match the size of the space, the feeling won’t get across. If it’s a movie screen instead of a TV, and a movie theater instead of a living room, you have to alter the feeling just a little bit, or else you’ll lose out to the sound [effects] and the [images on the] screen. That alone, I pay just a bit of attention to. I learned many things from Kanzaburō-san, and those numerous words remain as his legacy.
From Dragon Ball to Dragon Ball Z: The Era of Distinctive Performances
At first, I didn’t even think that I’d be able to play Gohan. To the point that, even on the day of the recording where Gohan first appears in the anime, I’d say, “I wonder who’ll play Gohan~”. Nowadays, you get the script in advance, but back then, we got the scripts on the day, right there, and read them for the first time. I looked at the cast list then, and just about in between where “Son Goku” and “Son Gohan” were written, were the words “Masako Nozawa”. I thought maybe the printing was misaligned in that day’s script. (laughs) So, I asked the producer, “Who’s going to be playing Gohan-kun?” and he told me, “You are, Nozawa-san. It’s written in the script, isn’t it?” …I was surprised, but truly happy. After all, normally it’s impossible to have one person doing the two starring roles of a parent and child. It was a milestone in my personal history with animation.
Even so, I was surprised when Gohan got bigger later on. That child who said he wanted to be a great scholar was suddenly saying things like “Great Saiyaman!!”. (laughs) It was the same when Goku became an adult, too. Up to the previous week, he had been a child, but in one week he became an adult, right? That too, the day [of recording], I saw the video, and said, “What happened, Goku? You were so cute up to last week!!” (laughs)
The villain I hate the most is Freeza. Freeza, well… He is a truly selfish, despicable person… and he was the most villainous enemy. He transforms one time after another, too. But, that form with the long head (his third form) was… maybe a bit unattractive. (laughs) Well, I do love him in a way, though. Both Goku and I would feel lonesome if there wasn’t someone strong like him.
There was a time where I hated Piccolo as well, you know. Around when he’s training Gohan… it didn’t seem to bother Goku, but perhaps because I lack training, Masako Nozawa personally couldn’t take it, and I’d think, “Go a little easier on him; you’re an adult!” (laughs) But you know, Yanami-chan (the narrator, Jōji Yanami-san) said it too. He called out to Furukawa-kun (Toshio Furukawa-san, the voice of Piccolo), “Hey, Furukawa! Knock it off, will you?!” Even I thought, “He went and said it!”, but Furukawa-kun must have really been in a bind to have such a veteran say that to him. (laughs) It was his role, after all. It’s not like he could have changed the script. (laughs)
Because of things like that, he was pretty despicable at first. He has good points, too, don’t you think? Giving those apples… Gohan respects Piccolo, and follows him… and that is precisely why even Piccolo protects Gohan, and sacrifices… ahh, just remembering it gets me teary-eyed. (laughs) I think there are probably a lot of people who came to like Piccolo right there.
Incidentally, with this movie, Battle of Gods, I think Vegeta is going to get a lot more fans. You really get to see to the bottom of his heart, as well as an unexpected side to him, and it’s really interesting. To tweak Vegeta like that is probably something only Toriyama-sensei can do. Normally, it’s something you’d be too afraid to do, for fear of destroying the character.
The Super Saiyan appears! Popularity explodes overnight
Even so, as the anime got into the later part, the art would gradually stop making it in on time. After all, there was a period where we were doing two movies a year, as well as TV specials… so there were times where only the lineart was finished when we recorded. The performers are able to give a nuanced performance because they’re looking at the visuals, so with lineart, there’s no choice but to perform using your imagination. At one time, I made a request to the producer, that I needed the visuals in order to match the finer facial expressions and movements. “I understand that the staff are busy and can’t make it in time, but still,” I said. Then there was a one-week break, and I got my hopes up, that “today I bet there will be visuals,” but I went, and sure enough, there weren’t. I asked, “why is that, after we had a week off?!” and he told me, “The staff were also off.” (laughs) It’s the same thing, then, isn’t it? (laughs)
Well, at the time, everything was painted by hand, so I think it was tough for the staff. The visuals now are cleaner. Cleaner, but I think maybe the feel of cel animation was also nice. You could really feel that sort of hand-drawn warmth.
I’ve also recorded a lot of voices for video games. But you do the recording for games by yourself. That was hard! I’d want to play off someone else, but there would be no one else there. That, and the number of roles. At any rate, as games have evolved, the number of characters I handle has also increased. Even with Goku alone, there’s child, adult, and Super Saiyan 1 – 4, then on top of that, there’s Gohan and Goten; Bardock and Tullece; Gogeta, Vegetto, and Gotenks; my, how it keeps increasing. (laughs) I’d like you to see me when I record; there’s a ton of scripts, all lined up behind me. Even for a single flinch noise, there’s “Ugh!” and “Uurgh!”, and I’d think, “What’s the difference?!” (laughs) Anyway, since I didn’t know the context, games were tough. After all, I’m no good at video games to begin with… I’ve been made to play them at events before, but the MC scolded me, [saying that] in spite of being Goku, I’m weak. (laughs) I just can’t win at them; I’d want to attack, but always end up frantically mashing at a completely different button. (laughs)
GT, then Kai! The widening world
I do a variety of roles in that way, I think. I’m really glad to be a voice-actress. A long time ago, I even said affected things like, “My profession is stage actress”, but then at some point, I suddenly thought, “Voice-acting is what I’m best at.” It was as though, suddenly, something like an angel had appeared before me, and told me, “Your true calling is voice-acting.” So now I can puff out my chest, and say, “I am a voice-actress. I love voice-acting.” I love the theater, too, but I think voice-acting is what I’m really cut out for.
And so, in ’09, Kai began… and of course, there was animation already. Because of that, it felt to me sort of like recording for a new work. I was in a state of, “did all the performers really have that sort of scene…?” After all, the last time we recorded [the same scenes] was a quarter-century ago. (laughs) In my case, I wouldn’t have had any trouble getting into the role regardless, but… the tempo was incredibly quick. They edited two or three episodes into one, so the spaces in between were tight. During this time, I had about four pages’ worth of just Goku talking, without any space to breathe. I told the staff, “You’re gonna kill me with this kind of editing.” (laughs)
Around this time, there was Bardock’s spin-off, as well. He’s completely different from Goku, but it wasn’t particularly difficult to play him. He’s just a steadfast and extremely charming character… That’s why they were able to do a spin-off, expanding things more and more. Expanding on what Toriyama-sensei’s created by mixing in ideas from a variety of people is nice, don’t you think? I think they should do this sort of thing more and more. After all, GT and the episode of Bardock were born from that.
As for why this work has been loved for such a long time… more than anything, it’s the appeal of Goku, the star. I think it’s because he’s sort of someone to aspire to, yet he’s definitely not a completely flawless hero!
Heroes are cool, but there’s an aspect that’s difficult to approach; Goku, however, feels familiar. He’s a warm person, and seems like you’d be able to just talk to him normally. If you asked, “Wanna go for some ramen?” he seems like he might say, “I’m goin’ too!” don’t you think? (laughs) That lack-of-barriers aspect is his greatest charm, and I think it’s the most important. If you can’t understand what they’re thinking, there will always be a sense of separateness, but Goku doesn’t have that, so I think he’ll probably always be loved. That’s something that’s the same all around the world.
Goku comes back on the big screen; the first new movie in a long time, Battle of Gods, opens!!
Although, there were also people who said they couldn’t quite go back [to that time], or who really had to re-read [the story] (to get into character). Well, everyone has their own approach… and also depends on how often they appeared, after all.
As for me, I get into it just like that when I see the visuals, so I had no sense of discomfort and no problems, and had fun recording. If anything was a problem, it’d have to be the fact that some of it had parts that were [still] lineart. (laughs)
And also, with regards to the battle… I wanted to do the final battle together with (Kōichi) Yamadera-kun. But our schedules just wouldn’t match up, so we ended up recording separately. I do sort of know his style of acting, though, having [performed] together with him in other works, so I recorded first while imagining [what he’d do], and then Yamadera-kun recorded while listening to that. Even so, at the preview screening, I was anxious anyway… I hadn’t seen the completed film yet, after all. Then, when I actually saw it, it was nothing short of magnificent. It’s odd to put it this way when I was doing it, but it was wonderful. According to the people at Toei, [he] said, “I’ll never be able to do another battle like that, before or after!!” and so I was truly happy.
Toriyama-sensei was involved with the script this time; the first thing I thought when I read the scenario was, “All right, this time the villain is a ‘loveable bad guy’!” There are exceptions, but the villains from Piccolo Daimaō onwards are just incredibly evil guys, don’t you think? But this time he has a bit of a klutzy aspect, which I thought was nice. I had thought that gods were all good people, so at first, I thought, “Is it all right for there to be a god like this?” But the reason for the battle is interesting, isn’t it? So I suppose it’s all right.
With the script this time, I heard that Toriyama-sensei was quite concerned with the Great East Japan Earthquake Disaster… and including the ending, I thought, “I see now.” I’ll be glad if those people who experienced terrible things in the disaster will be able to see this film with a light heart and stay positive.
With regards to how it turned out, Sensei was pleased. “It was even better than I had imagined,” he said. During the movie, there’s a scene where Goku says, “I give up,” and acknowledges defeat, but I didn’t want to say that in a regretful way. Personality-wise, even if Goku loses, the next moment he’s thinking about winning next time, and starts training, right?
That’s because he’s someone who tries to get stronger in order to improve himself, and defeating his opponent isn’t his goal. But this time, his opponent is a god, so I had him say it with the feeling of, “I’m glad I was able to fight [against Beerus]”. It’s a completely different feeling from when he tells Cell, “I give up.” Then Sensei told me, “It was just the delivery I was thinking of,” so I was incredibly happy.
But you know, when I did a talk with Sensei recentlyT2, he asked me, “Nozawa-san, do you ask a high rate?” When I asked why, Sensei said that when the anime first started, he had chosen me to play Goku, but apparently the staff brought out the name of another voice actor, and told him, “there’s this person, too”. So, Sensei thought that meant that this Masako Nozawa had a high rate… Cut it out, [I said,] I’m not expensive. (laughs)
Even so, I suppose maybe it’s because he chose me that way that Goku suited me. The other day, I went to a bookstore, and a young man spoke to me, and asked me, “please sign my tankōbon“. According to that person, “I’ve gone to three different bookstores, but they’re all out of the advance tickets for the movie… where should I go to find a place that’s selling them?”… well, even asking me, I’m not much help. (laughs) But, it made me happy. The fact that I played the lead in a work where young people like that… people who aren’t part of the generation that followed the series in real-time, would walk around looking for pre-release tickets, is incredibly dear to me.
2 Kanzaburō Nakamura-san
The previous generation, Nakamura Kanzaburō XVII. A kabuki actor, he was recognized as a living national treasure in 1975.T1
T2 Referring to the interview done for the “World of Dragon Ball” exhibit, though this particular incident appears to be off-the-record.