When you were cast for the part, were you aware of Dragon Ball?
I knew of the title, but I didn’t know much of what the work was about. At the time, I was also doing Saint Seiya, and my cast-mate Tōru Furuya had appeared as Yamcha, so I remember telling him, “I’m going to be on Dragon Ball in a role called Tenshinhan.” Furuya-san is knowledgeable about anime, and had dutifully read the original work, so I got him to lecture me on a number of things about Tenshinhan.
How did you go about making the role?
When I appear in an animated program, I always consider the balance. I think about what sort of characters there are around mine, and how I should go about insinuating myself into their midst. Of course, there’s my impression upon seeing an illustration of the character, but I don’t have an extremely large voice repertoire, so I didn’t really think about differentiating it from, say, Dragon Shiryū in Saint Seiya, which I was doing in the same period. I suppose that hasn’t changed since I started working in animation.
Please give us some concrete examples of how you achieved a balance with the characters around him.
For a while after he first appears, Tenshinhan is the focus of the story; for that, I suppose it’s bringing out as much presence as you can. For instance, even when he’s tangled up with Tsuru-Sen’nin, I’d aim to do a performance with its own flavor, so as to give viewers an impression of Tenshinhan’s individuality. By doing that, even after he was reduced to a supporting character, a sense of Tenshinhan’s presence would remain. In Dragon Ball Z, he came to be not as strong as other characters, but I myself have a great deal of affection for him. It’s not limited to Tenshinhan, but I develop a great affinity for characters I’ve played for many years. In the case of anime, many different people, including the creator and the animators, work together in creating the characters, so it’s not like I brought the character to completion all by myself; however, I do come to have a sense of pride as one of the people who helped breathe life into that character. It’s no different for a main character, or for a villain.
Did you change your performance at all along the way?
I myself didn’t think I’d particularly changed anything, but everyone did tell me, “Tenshinhan’s gotten weak all of a sudden.” (laughs) Although it isn’t really that he got weaker; it’s just that the villains, beginning with Freeza, got way too strong. In that way, when the number of situations where Tenshinhan could play an active role started to decrease, the role of the Tenka’ichi Budōkai announcer fell on me. I thought I’d be done with it after that one time, so I played the role with a lot of energy, but he came to appear a number of times after that, so it was a pain. (laughs) Apart from that, I also played the announcer for the Afterlife Tournament, but I used falsetto for that. I got a, “Will you be all right using that voice?” from people like Masako Nozawa-san and Jōji Yanami-san, but I answered, “It’s just for this once”; I got the OK from the voice director, so I just went ahead with it. Having done that, this didn’t end with one time either. It was nothing but high-energy lines in falsetto, so it was really exhausting. I really made a mistake with that.
Were there any other characters you played in Dragon Ball?
In Dragon Ball GT, I played Doltakki, who’s a doll otaku. He was an alien who turns humans he takes a liking to into dolls, and an absolute pervert. (laughs) But I had quite a bit of fun playing him, and everyone praised me: “You’re good at perverted roles, too.” (laughs) I also did so many other roles across the series that I can’t count them all. I think there was one where I played the man in a couple being attacked by a villain, who only shouts “Jennifer!” I hardly did any ad-libs in Dragon Ball, but that girl’s name was an ad-lib. It was just the first name that came to mind; it didn’t have any special meaning. (laughs)
In your view, Suzuoki-san, what is Dragon Ball’s appeal?
It’s the dramatic developments and the interesting characters. I think it’s good that there are lots of side-characters like Pu’er, Kame-Sen’nin, and Gyūmaō who are really appealing, not just the ones who participate in the battles. The little dramas away from the main story, with those sorts of characters as the focus, were fun as well. So rather than Dragon Ball Z, where fighting is the focus, I prefer Dragon Ball, which had more everyday-drama. Although, Tenshinhan was often left out of those everyday, comedic scenes. (laughs)
If you were to play a character other than Tenshinhan, who would you want to be?
I really like comedic roles, so I feel a certain pull with Kame-Sen’nin and Karin. Since I have a lot of roles that are handsome young men or nihilists, I’d like to do a role that’s not one of those.
How about Goku?
No way! I truly think that Masako Nozawa-san is a genius with that. She’s done not just Goku, but also Gohan and Goten. And on top of that, she doesn’t just use three different voices for them; she actually plays three different characters. It really made me realize that much more just how incredible she is. Plus, she loves the characters from the bottom of her heart, and is really immersed in the roles. Even if I were an actress, I wouldn’t be able to keep up with her.
Having come to play the role of Tenshinhan, were there any changes, perhaps an increase in child fans?
I have a nephew and a niece; they were little when it was airing, so when I told them, “I’m doing the voice for Tenshinhan,” they’d have a gleam in their eyes, and say, “Wow! Do it for us!” Only, when I’d actually do it, they’d tell me, “What? That doesn’t sound like him.” (laughs) Children hear the voices while looking at the pictures, so I understand that when they hear Tenshinhan’s voice while looking at my face, it just doesn’t match. That was an interesting discovery.
Did Tenshinhan not come to equate to you, Suzuoki-san? (laughs)
I myself have a personality close to Yamcha’s, so there probably weren’t many areas where I shared Tenshinhan’s way of thinking. (laughs) Naturally, Tenshinhan would probably dislike Yamcha’s sort of lightness, as well. (laughs) Tenshinhan is a serious man. He would blindly follow Tsuru-Sen’nin’s teachings, and when he went on a journey, he would train. But I really liked Tenshinhan’s way of interacting with Chiaotzu. I was deeply impressed by the way he looks out for Chiaotzu like a true older brother. If I actually had a little brother as cute as Chiaotzu, I think I’d want to protect him just like Tenshinhan does. (laughs)
Lastly, a message for the fans of Dragon Ball, if you please.
Each generation has an animated work that it remembers; however, on top of Dragon Ball being broadcast for a long period of time, re-broadcasts are aired even now, and new products such as DVDs and video games continue to be released, so I get the feeling that it’s an animation that transcends generations. I would be happy as can be if, just like that, it always goes on being a work that everyone remembers.
(Recorded 30 March 2004)