February 10, 2016 – Kira Buckland is a voice actress who truly gets into her work. Besides being a skilled voice actress, she also majored in Japanese and is an avid cosplayer who, according to her website, has dyed her hair every color under the sun. She truly is a live action anime character in and of herself. Who better, then, to voice the more mercurial characters that we find so unforgettable? Ms. Buckland thoroughly impressed me with her versatility and verve as Chou Chou, from the Mugen Souls games, who is 8 different exaggerated anime characters in one. She has also voiced characters in Tales of Zestiria, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker, and more. She was kind enough to take a break from her many adventures to chat with us about voice acting, coffee, and all kinds of other cool stuff.
RPGFan: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. First question, what got you into voiceover work in the first place?
Kira Buckland: I decided I want to be a voice actor in 2004, when I was sixteen years old and a junior in high school. I'd recently gotten pretty interested in anime and video games, and was starting to realize that people actually have jobs doing voices for those characters! But I lived in Alaska, which is where I was born and raised, so I had no clue how to get started. Then a friend at the time showed me some websites and forums where you could go to voice act as a hobby online for fan productions. So I started doing that for a good number of years, and of course I wasn't very good since I didn't have any formal training yet.
I originally taught myself to do different voices by just listening to and imitating others... but then I took acting classes, and that really stepped up my game. Eventually I competed in (and won) AX Idol in 2007 and later moved to California, which kind of got my foot in the door to the industry. That said, I've consistently had to work hard and prove myself ever since. Getting one opportunity doesn't necessarily guarantee future work — as with any freelance/independent contractor job, you've got to constantly hustle to keep getting gigs. You don't get hired on by one specific company and have guaranteed employment; it's on a per-job basis. People outside of the industry don't always realize that.
RPGFan: Who are some of your voiceover and acting influences?
Kira: It's constantly changing. Of course I look up to people who have been working in the industry for a very long time (some of whom have directed me on projects!), but I am also greatly influenced by my close friends and peers, because they always inspire me to strive for more.
RPGFan: You've played a lot of mercurial characters with such wildly varying emotional states. Whether it's Hiyoko Saionji fron Danganronpa 2 shifting from violent sadism to crying hysterically; Chou Chou from Mugen Souls literally changing into extreme versions of every anime archetype; or Edna in Tales of Zestiria and Miyako Hotsuin in Devil Survivor 2 presenting as cold/apathetic but holding firestorms of emotions inside... How do you prepare for off-kilter roles like that?
Kira: I actually love playing those types of characters... the crazier, the better! I tend to get cast as mean and/or sarcastic girls a lot, and that is very fun for me. In fact, I am so used to playing over-the-top characters that someone like Miyako Hotsuin was a bit of a challenge for me because I had to rein a lot of that in and make the emotional differences much more subtle. Right now — outside of most JRPGs at least — the trend is for video game characters to sound conversational and natural, so I'm working on learning how to sound more like a "real person," which believe it or not, is harder than it sounds. I'm most in my element when I get to play characters like Seraphina from Disgaea 5, obnoxious laugh and all.
RPGFan: Given the exaggerated nature of many anime and video game characters, have you ever been directed to act a character in a way that you felt was simply not going to work? If so, how did you handle that?
Kira: You pretty much just trust the director no matter what. Most of the time, you don't have any knowledge of the project and character other than what they tell you, so you're relying on the information and context they give you, and sometimes the client will be in the room to help out with that too. The only thing that makes me cringe a little inside is if I have to purposefully mispronounce Japanese names and words (I studied the language for years), but sometimes they just want to make it easier for English speakers to say and they have to make sure all the cast is consistent with the way they say things, so you just have to roll with it. Of course, there are times when any actor thinks to themselves "that's not how I would have approached that line," but ultimately our job is to go in there and give them what they want, and being easily directable is an extremely important skill in getting hired and rehired.
RPGFan: When recording any given character, are you only given a script to read or are you also shown storyboards and character art for inspiration?
Kira: It really depends on the game. If we're lucky, we get to see a picture of the character, the context of the dialogue, and maybe even get to hear the original Japanese voiceover for reference on some or all of the lines. But then sometimes we are just shown a spreadsheet with our characters' lines and nothing else — which makes sense for battle lines and whatnot, but I find it really difficult for story mode dialogue because I like to at least see the previous line so I know what I'm reacting to. I think it makes the performance much more authentic that way. Sometimes the lines will be pretty self-explanatory, but if not, I will ask for a bit of context or clarification.
RPGFan: Along with RPGs, you've done voice work in fighting games like Skullgirls and Dead or Alive 5. How is it different voicing a character for a fighting game as opposed to an RPG?
Kira: Well I'm a huge fighting gamer, so I would definitely love to do more of those! A lot of people assume fighting games are a bunch of screaming and efforts, and I'm sure that's true for a lot of them, but Honoka in DoA was more cute and innocent sounding, so I didn't have to get too loud on those lines. My character Marie in Skullgirls was a bit different too, because she was an unplayable boss character and didn't really have fighting efforts, just spoken lines when certain things were activated (and since her voice was rather soft and monotone, it was not a vocally stressful role). But most RPGs — which is the bulk of what I've done — have combat efforts too. You'll do the story stuff, and then the battle callouts. They're really not that bad until it comes to the death screams. But I could imagine doing something like a first-person shooter would be a lot harder on the voice because you'd be shouting most of the time.
RPGFan: Not only have you done roles for games from high profile studios (e.g. Bandai Namco), but you have also done work for smaller, independently developed titles (e.g. Dust: An Elysian Tail). What is the experience like working with the smaller companies vs. the larger ones?
Kira: A lot of indie games let you record from home, especially if they don't have the budget to rent out a studio. That's one of the reasons I highly suggest that people who don't yet live in a major market for voiceover look into doing this sort of thing — it can also provide you with great experience and credits for your resume. People tend to assume indie games don't pay very well, but in the age of crowdfunding, that's not always the case. If you're recording from home, you may either have a director Skype with you, or you may just receive the script over e-mail and send the files back on your own. And in that case, you're usually responsible for editing the files yourself, since there won't be an engineer there. While it can be incredibly convenient to get a job where I'm able to record from home, editing and cleaning up files is honestly my least favorite part of the process!
RPGFan: Have you played any of the video games you've contributed to, and if so, which ones did you most enjoy playing?
Kira: Of course I picked up Dead or Alive 5 Last Round immediately because it was a long time dream of mine to be able to play as myself in a fighting game! I've played a decent number of the games I've voice acted for, but I don't always get to, especially if it's for a console I don't have. I do a lot of games for PS4 and PS Vita, and sadly, I don't have either of those. And then I have to pick which games I want to spend my money on. People tend to assume that voice actors get free copies of the games they work on, but that's almost never the case.
RPGFan: Outside of voiceover work, what are some of your other hobbies and interests?
Kira: I'm a huge fan of rock music in general and especially classic rock. I'm obsessed with the series "JoJo's Bizarre Adventure" — I have a tattoo of the Joestar birthmark and everything. I also like going to conventions and cosplaying, taking care of my four cats, doing makeup, and going to the coffee shop every day for an iced Mexican mocha. Another major obsession of mine is David Bowie (may he rest in peace).
RPGFan: What are some of your future aspirations (both in voiceover work and otherwise)?
Kira: I'd really love to do more fighting games, especially for franchises I love as a player (such as Guilty Gear). I'd like to do other types of voice work I don't get to do often or at all, such as commercials, audio books, theme park rides, and other random stuff. And of course, I'd adore the opportunity to be Jolyne Kujo in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure if Stone Ocean is ever to get animated and dubbed.
RPGFan: Do you have any advice for aspiring voiceover artists you'd like to impart?
Kira: I have two pieces of advice which I always give whenever I'm asked this question. The first one is probably something that you'll hear from every actor ever, and that's learn how to act. When you're first starting out, it's very easy to get caught up in trying to learn to do lots of different "voices," which is great, but can you make each of those into a believable, well-rounded character if need be? You can learn a lot of things from experimenting and practicing on your own, but I firmly believe that taking classes is an essential part of the process. Later on, it can be helpful to have a coach or mentor who can specifically let you know what you need to work on, because we're not always good judges of our own skill.
The second piece of advice is, for those first starting out, to get involved in online voice acting communities and do projects such as flash animations, indie games, and audio dramas. They may not be paying projects, but that's okay — you've got to start somewhere and work your way up, and they can give you practice and experience for professional projects later down the line. Voice acting as a hobby can also be beneficial for those who are interested in trying it out but are unsure if they are ready to make all the sacrifices (financially and in life) required to pursue it professionally.
RPGFan: Are there any last words you'd like to share with our readers?
Kira: Don't give up because someone tells you you don't have a good voice. Voices can be trained, and most people aren't good at anything when they first start. I've been working at this for twelve years now and am still learning and improving every day. So many people early on told me I wasn't good or I should give up, but if it's what you're passionate about, you've just got to keep working at it and getting better. This career path takes a lot of patience... we always want to be working more and auditioning more and having bigger roles. And sometimes you just have to let that go and try to do the best you can in the moment.