The Legacy of Women in Anime with Funimation

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This virtual panel is presented in partnership with Funimation.

Anime has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade as it’s progressively evolved from a niche interest into mainstream entertainment. There are now more places than ever to consume anime, whether it’s on broadcast television or any of the available streaming services, some of which are devoted entirely to anime content.

It’s truly exciting to see the medium’s continued success, but part of the reason that it’s found such universal acclaim is because often anime is just as concerned about representation as it is with entertainment. Anime doesn’t just speak to everyone, but specifically highlights those that may get overlooked elsewhere and feel like their voices are diminished. 

Monica Rial (Case Closed, Golden Kamuy, and Dragon Balls Bulma) and Caitlin Glass (My Hero Academia, Fairy Tail, The Vision of Escaflowne) are two highly accomplished voice actors. In celebration of Women’s History Month in partnership with Funimation, we spoke with the actors to discuss female representation in the anime industry, the versatility and freedom that anime can provide women, and the joys of inspiring the next generation of talent to realize and reach for their dreams.

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DEN OF GEEK: What sort of relationship did both of you have with anime—if any—before you started working in the industry?

CAITLIN GLASS: I started as a voice actor in 2004, but I’d been watching anime since I was a kid before I even knew what anime even was. I remember being really young—like elementary school—and watching this Grimm’s Fairy Tales show, that I only found out decades later was anime. So yes, I’ve been watching anime since I was a kid, but I really got into it in high school.

In college, anime was an escape for me. I was a theater student, so I spent all my time in rehearsal and I just needed something else to focus on and so I picked anime. I was like, “I used to like anime in high school. Let me go back to that!” Within months of me picking it back up as a hobby, I ended up with an audition at Funimation and the rest is history.

MONICA RIAL: For me, it was my little brother who got me involved in anime. My family is from Spain, so we would go visit over the summertime. Of course, him being a little kid, he would wake up really early to watch all the Spanish anime. One of the shows was a little thing called, “Las Bolas de Dragon” — Dragon Ball. I got to translate for him and it made me really familiar with the show and just really enjoyed it. Then when we came back stateside, he started looking into more and more anime and It made me realize that I, like Caitlin, had been watching anime since I was a kid, but didn’t realize what it was. 

After that he started getting into more mature shows like your Akira-type stuff and the big ones that were popular. I’d watch these with him and really enjoyed them. I was in college at this point too and one of my colleagues was like, “Hey, I’m doing this thing and you should audition.” It just so happened to be a company in Houston that dubbed anime and things started there. It’s really neat for us to have this history with anime, but then also get to be a part of it. It’s really, really cool.

DEN OF GEEK: With anime did you realize what you were being drawn to in particular? Did you see something in the material that perhaps wasn’t getting represented in other animation or programming in general?

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CAITLIN GLASS: When I was a teenager, I had friends in theater in high school who were into Sailor Moon. I think we were really attracted to the beautiful costumes and the art in the manga, as well as in the cartoon. The more that I watched it, I  started to realize that what I loved about it is the variety of personalities represented amongst all of the Scouts. How you could see yourself in one or more of them. Liking that show immediately gave you a community when you found someone else who also liked it, because you could be like, “Which Scout are you? Who do you like the most?” 

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There was very limited merchandise, but I remember being able to find some and feeling like I was the coolest because I had the Sailor Mars brush and then my friend had the Sailor Jupiter one. I think that anime helped pave the way for showing not just some token female with a group of guy friends, but that there could be a show that’s led by all female characters who have a variety of personalities to them. It lets the viewer truly find themselves represented in what they’re watching.

MONICA RIAL: I agree. What’s so intriguing to me as an actor is that so many of the stories in anime are character-driven. Sure, the story’s important, but the characters are really what get fleshed out and usually we really get to know them as human beings. As a result, this is also true with the female characters as well, which is not something that you see in all media. 

A lot of times you will have these female characters that are present, but they may not be as fleshed out as you would like. You want to know more about them and it just never happens. It never comes to fruition. So, being a part of a medium where women are not only present and sometimes carry the show, as Caitlin says, but they are also real humans. We get to see their good sides and their bad sides. Not just the stereotypical. That stuff is in there too, but there’s not as much of it in the anime world.

DEN OF GEEK: Like you guys were saying with Sailor Moon, I think anime does such a good job with projecting different types of female relationships. Sailor Moon specifically helped normalize same-sex female relationships way ahead of the curve. Does it feel good to be a part of that inclusivity and to get to see it evolve even further, a decade or two later?

MONICA RIAL: I would say 100%. One of my first memories in voice acting was an audition that I went to and I remember being so amazed that the character that I was playing in this audition was a lesbian. I was so excited, because at that time in the late ‘90s and the early 2000s, that wasn’t really huge in media. I remember seeing the director later and being like, “I really want to play the lesbian. She’s so great. Like what a great character.” We don’t normally get characters like this, that are so well-rounded and so much fun to play, but also have that aspect. There’s not always a lot of LGBTQ representation, especially at that time. 

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It’s so cool to be able to play a character like that. I felt like it was life-changing because then you go from there and it’s like all those stigmas working in that industry just kind of disappear by normalizing it and making it a part of what we do. And I love that with anime fans today there’s not even a second thought over what a person’s gender might be. It’s like, everybody is free-rolling. We’re all putting our 100% into it. And there’s representation everywhere, which I think is fantastic, because it’s so needed.

CAITLIN GLASS: I think it’s great that people who enjoy anime fandom can really find a home and a place to belong within it because anime is not a genre in and of itself. It’s a medium of storytelling. There are so many genres of stories within it and there is something for everyone. And as far as LGBTQ content goes, I think that here in Western society, I think that we’re actually able to handle that material in a way that respects it possibly even more than the Japanese do. I’m concerned sometimes, when I see it in anime, that it’s really just there for someone’s fetish, as far as Japanese viewership goes. Because as a culture, they are not necessarily as open as anime may lead you to believe. So, it is a comfort to be at conventions and see people just getting to be themselves.

DEN OF GEEK: Something that I think is so interesting with anime is that there seem to be more roles for women, which isn’t typically the case in other fields. Talk a little bit about that dynamic and if you started more with voicing female or male characters?

MONICA RIAL: I haven’t really gotten to do a lot of male characters. I don’t know if there’s just something inherently female in my voice. I have no idea! I would love to do more of it! However, what I do adore about the medium is the ability to be completely different than what you are in reality. The roles that I’m cast in, I would not get to play on screen and I would not get to play on stage. I tend to do a lot of what I call, “critters,” which are kind of the ambiguous, not of this world, alien types of things. Or sometimes literal critters, too. That’s a lot of fun, because that’s not something I would get to do on stage. Or even the opportunity to play a little girl is something that I can’t do in real life because I’m a 45 year-old woman. Being able to have those opportunities to play things that are outside of what you would normally be cast in because of your physical appearance or biology is such a huge benefit for an actor. And it’s just so much fun. We get to play all the time.

CAITLIN GLASS: Like Monica, I haven’t played many male roles, though it is on the bucket list. I really, really want to get to play a young male protagonist who has more than just a scene, but is like a leader. The 12 to 13-year-old spunky boy or whatever. I’d love to do that. But you’re right, it isn’t as prevalent in media otherwise, outside of anime. I think nowadays in Western cartoons, the trend is to actually get real kids. Though, in cartoons when I was younger, it was still normal to have a female playing a male lead. I think of shows like Dexter’s Lab, and maybe even more recently, Fairly Odd Parents. Those shows have females in those young boy roles. The reason for it is that they intend for the show to run for a long time. You can’t  do that with a real boy who will experience puberty and his voice will change. 

I’m also a director as well as a voice actor and I love the  idea of getting to work with real young people. But I also recognize that the subject matter of anime may not be something that’s appropriate all of the time to have a real 12 year-old kid doing. So, it’s nice for us, as Monica said, to get to play against type. Sometimes the show comes along and it’s just an all-male cast. It’s an all-male story. That’s just how that story is. But I think, maybe they’ll have a flashback when they’re all six years old, and then I’ll get to be in it!

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DEN OF GEEK: Both of you also have experience working as ADR directors and having a hand in casting and the performances in anime. How does your work as a voice actor affect and inform your directing work and is there anything that you try hard to bring through when you’re directing on projects?

CAITLIN GLASS: Yes. Being a voice actor certainly helps at the job of being a director, because you can understand the actor’s perspective and you know how to communicate with them. You know what is going through their head while they’re in the booth, trying to do the math, and make the words fit the animation. I will say, I started directing shortly after I became a voice actor, in 2005. Over the years, I’ve seen a great increase in female representation in the industry side of anime. I can’t do anything about what the stories are about, but it is nice to see a lot more female directors, female engineers, female ADR writers, script adapters. That’s really encouraging. I just want people to know that women are behind the scenes and doing a lot. We have producers that are women, vice presidents that are women within the company. 

I do feel it is our responsibility as directors, if you’re able to make casting decisions. At Funimation I’m able to cast my own shows and it’s really important to me that the shows that I dub sound like the people who watch them. I mentioned when we can go to conventions and we see all the people there getting to be themselves and it is the most wonderful, diverse picture I’ve ever seen in my life. People from all walks of life, all races, all sexual orientations and genders, just hanging out and having a good time together. I really want the shows that I produce and that I direct to sound like these people. I’ve made it my goal in the last handful of years to be more diverse in my casting and be purposeful about it, so that people can hear themselves in the media that they like so much.

MONICA RIAL: And it’s so appreciated! I remember back when I started that there was a group of us that were Hispanic and we would joke, “Oh, we’re the three Hispanic voice actors. Go us!” There just wasn’t a lot of diversity when we started. I don’t know why that was, but as we’ve gone through the years, we’ve gotten more and more diverse. I think, as a result, our dubs sound more interesting because they’ve got different kinds of voices and accents. Natural accents and things. I think that makes it sound much more interesting than just a bunch of people that all sound the same. 

As a director, I think Caitlin hit the nail on the head, but I think that being a director sometimes can help you be a better voice actor. I learned so much by watching the people in my booth. As an actor, you don’t ever get to see the other actors’ processes, unless you’re on a stage production or something. As a voice actor, we work individually. I never got to see Caitlin’s process in the booth or anyone else’s. Once you finally get to see that you kind of go, “Oh, wait, you can just do a wild take in between? I didn’t know that. I’m going to start doing that!” It definitely makes you a better voice actor. But I’m so proud of Caitlin and the push for diversity that she’s been doing, because I think it’s phenomenal. Her shows sound so cool as a result!

DEN OF GEEK: To expand on that, it feels like the variety of anime that get dubbed now covers a much broader range than how things were a decade ago. Have you noticed any changes in this area and if anime has become more progressive in that way?

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MONICA RIAL: I’m surprised that after all of these years that they’re still coming up with these really, really creative ideas. How do you not run out of ideas, Japan!? I find that absolutely fascinating. I think that it’s really cool to watch, but it’s even cooler to think about the fact that it’s all still going. We’ve had so many periods in time where there was a question of, “Oh, is this is it? Is anime going to pitfall? Popularity is going to go away. It was fun. See you guys later.” Every time we get to that step something happens that kind of brings it back. I assume it’s the fandom. Thank you guys so much. It’s really great to see because every time it comes back it comes back a little bit stronger. Right now, anime, in my opinion, feels like it’s more popular than it’s ever been before. That’s just so cool when you’ve spent so much of your life working on something that you truly believe in and love.

CAITLIN GLASS: Yeah. It’s pretty spectacular. The number of shows that come out every season, and like Monica mentioned–the sheer variety of story–just warms my heart. It means that there’s going to be even more and something for everyone. You’re going to find that thing that you like. Like I mentioned before, anime is not a genre; it’s a medium. So, that thing that you’re into? We’ve got that. We’ve got that for you.

DEN OF GEEK: Finally, what are some lasting memories from working within the anime industry that have really resonated with you?

MONICA RIAL: Well, going back to conventions will be huge because I think that for us it’s just so great to have that one-on-one experience. And I really feel bad for the actors that don’t have that connection to their fandom like we do. We really do get to speak to the people who are taking in the medium and watching it. They’re all so incredibly sweet and thankful, but I think the biggest thing for me has been playing Bulma. I’ve had so many women come to me and go, “Man, I just want to say thank you because what a strong lady! She’s strong, independent, smart, wealthy. She doesn’t need a dude. I’m pro-Bulma!” And that makes me so happy and she’s a great role model. Finally, I have a role model that I can go, “Hey, little girls. You can be a scientist, and you can be spunky, and you can be all of these things together.” And that’s cool. It’s totally okay. 

We go in individually to record and you do the best that you can. You hope that the director gets all the puzzle pieces together and it’s brilliant. But then, to see the reaction from the folks that have watched it, and to see how it’s touched their lives is just huge. How often do you get to see that you’re making a difference just by doing something that you love? It really means a lot. I’ll be happy to get back to conventions and see those guys again, because I realized how much I miss that interaction with the fandom just over the last year.

CAITLIN GLASS: For me, something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately isn’t so much who am I touching with a particular character, but what influence am I able to have just by being a voice actor? When I first started and I was going to conventions, even very early on in 2004 and 2005,  people were always asking, “How can I be a voice actor?” At the time it was kind of this, “Oh, God. Who wants to tell them?” situation. It would be this annoying question that we had to get out of the way. However, over the years I’ve realized answering that question so many times that this stuff has truly shaped a generation of young actors in a way that I did not expect. I used to just roll my eyes at it, but the folks that really had it in their heart to make this their way of life are doing it. Now some of them are even my colleagues and it’s amazing. It’s amazing.

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I’m so proud of them, but it’s also really reassuring to me. I want Monica and any other voice actors out there to know that there was a time in this field when I thought, “Is this all that I could be doing? I have a degree. I wanted to go on stage and study abroad and do Shakespeare…Am I settling by putting down these roots in the anime dub world?” I look back now and I realize that we have honestly and truly made a mark on the industry, and in the West, in a positive way. It’s shaping young lives and giving young artists a place to call home. We’re doing good and let’s keep doing it. Let’s keep doing it.

MONICA RIAL: It’s really amazing. The first few times I recognized somebody at the studio that was someone that told me in an autograph line, “Someday, I’m going to work with you.” And when you see that person it brings tears to your eyes. You’re like, “You did the thing! I told you how to do the thing, and you did it! Congratulations!” It’s such a cool feeling. You realize that we become the maternal figures to the community because these are kids that looked up to us and now are working with us. As a result–and I know Caitlin is the same way–we try to give back and help them out whenever they have questions. I always want to be available for support and to let the other kids out there that are still so interested in getting involved that there is a path to success. There is a path to becoming a voice actor, especially during the pandemic. That’s huge because now most of what we’re doing is remote. There’s a lot of people that have been able to break into the industry that may not have been able to before because of the constraints of limitations of distance. That’s been really exciting.

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