Toshio Furukawa talks ‘Dragon Ball,’ teaching, and voice acting career

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Shino Kakinuma jokes during their panel.

Accomplished Japanese voice actor Toshio Furukawa made an appearance at the 2018 Taiyou Con this weekend. Furukawa signed autographs for attendees and participated in Q&A panels alongside his wife Shino Kakinuma over the three-day event.

Known widely for his repeat role of Piccolo in the numerous Dragon Ball related anime series, Furukawa has also played notable characters such as Ace in One Piece, Misao in Detective Conan, Inaba in Bleach, and many more over his 40-year career. When not voicing roles, Furukawa is a professor at the Osaka University of the Arts teaching students about becoming a voice actor. 

(The following interview was conducted with the assistance of a Japanese interpreter.)

Nerdvana: When you first auditioned for Dragon Ball, what was your first impression of the series?

Furukawa: The first time I voiced in the Dragon Ball series, I voiced a character called General Blue, which had a more effeminate voice when speaking in Japanese. Once it became Dragon Ball Z, I voiced the character of Piccolo.

There was no audition for that, it was actually an offer. I heard from the director and the director said “I have this role that I think your voice would be good for, but please voice it lower than normal. Lower than your normal range.” So that’s how that came to me from the series as a direct offer at the time.

A fan asks Furukawa about his work on ‘Dragon Ball Super’ during a Q&A panel.

Nerdvana: Did you ever imagine that 30-plus years later you would be voicing the same character?

Furukawa: (laughs) No, I could not have even imagined it would last this long! I thought it would last a year! 

Nerdvana: There was a bit of a fan debate last year about people preferring the English voice cast over the Japanese cast and vice versa in regards to the Dragon Ball FighterZ game. What’s your impression from both sides being so passionate?

Furukawa: Having that passion means that they really love it, so I guess that’s a good thing! I think that just means that both sides really like Dragon Ball.

Nerdvana: You’ve been in alot of popular series such as Bleach, Soul Eater, Detective Conan, One Piece, etc. How have each of these roles impacted you as a voice actor, especially given that the fans as so passionate about each series?

Furukawa: The way that I feel it’s changed me is whenever I see an image of one of those characters, immediately the voice will come out. If someone here at the convention were to ask me “Hey, could you please do this voice?” there’s more of a time lag. It takes me awhile to remember if I don’t have that picture to look at. (laughs)

Nerdvana: Recently in the U.S. there was a strike for voice actors in video games that has since reached a conclusion. Given your long career involvement with acting and voice acting, do you feel voice actors are recognized enough for their work?

Furukawa: In Japan the same thing happened about 30 years ago where in the voice acting industry and the acting industry, we fought to create a union to make conditions better for workers in the voice acting industry. So now things are actually really good for VAs, although I hear that things are not very good for animators.

Nerdvana: What major lessons from your career to you try to impart on your students trying to make their own ways into broadcast media and acting?

Furukawa: As far as for performing, what I teach my students is: be yourself. Base it [the role] on yourself. Don’t do an adaptation of somebody else’s performance, but come up with your own performance and bring your own originality to the role.

It’s also important that when you’re taking on a role that you gather and do your research. That’s essential to be able to do a good job and it has a huge effect on your performance.

For example, Ace from One Piece. He is this rough and gruff second-in-command pirate and so he’s very fierce, but then he has this other side to him as a kind, older brother. I think it’s very important to understand that and to portray most of those aspects. This is the kind of thing I teach my students about.

Nerdvana: Other than Piccolo, what would you say is a character that resonated the most with you that you voiced?

Furukawa: Outside of Dragon Ball and One Piece, which I really like, I would have to say Ataru from Urusei Yatsura. It really helped me set up my career as a voice actor and was really important to me as a big step to getting where I am today. I think very highly of that role.

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About Christen Bejar

Christen BejarChristen Bejar is a freelance gaming writer who started the local blog The Pause Button while studying at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. For Nerdvana, Bejar reviews video games and also previews, recaps and photographs many local events from a gamer's perspective.