Originally posted on 24 January 2016
Source: page 80-83

Ryu Encyclopaedia

Portraits of the Creators, Episode 4: Haruyoshi Tomita/Kazunobu Takeuchi/Momoko Yamaguchi/Naoki Sakurai

The people who have spent 10 years attending hellish voice recordings

Music direction/sound production management/sound section manager
Haruyoshi Tomita

In charge of management concerning voice recording and cast bookings. Displays his shrewdness on a daily basis to ensure that the harsh voice recording schedule proceeds smoothly.

Script assistance/assistant sound director/assistant stage director/lead planner
Kazunobu Takeuchi

Beginning with direction during voice recording, is in charge of the script and stage direction during events. The "successor" to most of the work that chief producer Yokoyama is involved in.

MIT Studio
Momoko Yamaguchi

A contact person from MIT Studio, which dispatches engineers to the Ryu ga Gotoku team. She is also involved in the booking of voice actors, who are indispensible to voice recording.

MIT Studio
Naoki Sakurai

A sound engineer from MIT Studio who supports voice recording for the Ryu ga Gotoku series. The Ryu ga Gotoku team has full trust in his speed and skill.

The hellish scene that played out before Takeuchi during his first year at the company

―First of all, could you please tell me what you all do as part of the voice recording team?

Haruyoshi Tomita (below, Tomita): I'm the sound section manager. Basically, my job mainly entails things like managing the budget for voice recording and the production process.

Naoki Sakurai (below, Sakurai): I'm a recording engineer at MIT Studio. I record the voices and karaoke songs for Ryu ga Gotoku, and also do the mixing.

Momoko Yamaguchi (below, Yamaguchi): I'm also from MIT Studio. My work mainly involves deploying engineers and overseeing recordings, collaborating on the music production process, and helping out with casting.

Kazunobu Takeuchi (below, Takeuchi): I'm a planner, but on things like Ryu ga Gotoku 0 I've been the leader of the event team, which creates scenario and event scenes. By the way, the event team's job includes all of the little tasks to do with things like turning the scenario into a script, management of the storyboards, plus the performance and progression of motion capture. The main subject this time around, sound direction when we're recording voices, is also centred around the event team.

―There are lots of parts of your job that overlap with those of the current chief producer, Yokoyama. Does this mean you're in a sort of "teacher's pet" position with regards to him?

Takeuchi: I don't know about that... (laughs). Objectively speaking, it's true that I've taken on a lot of his work.

―We have you all assembled here today as the Ryu ga Gotoku series welcomes its 10th anniversary. Looking back on your work over the past decade, are there any memories that have really stuck with you?

Takeuchi: I came in at the same time as Horii, who's in charge of karaoke, when the Ryu ga Gotoku 2 project was beginning. Our generation is called the "Ryu children" (laughs). This means that ever since I joined the company, I've been working at the Ryu ga Gotoku studio. A particularly memorable thing was the first voice recording after I joined. The newbies would keep switching around and being called to observe the recording, but I ended up being in attendance at the recording for a certain actor. At first I just casually thought, "I'm going to get to see a famous person!" but something amazing happened.

Tomita: Oh, you're going to tell that story (laughs).

Takeuchi: The actor being recorded that day was a rather distinguished one, but they hadn't done any prior preparation whatsoever and there were big problems with their performance. Because of the kind of person Yokoyama, who was in charge that day, is, he kept relentlessly calling for retakes, but it just wasn't getting any better. The time crawled by, and the air was frosty. We reached the end of the recording session and the actor was still fumbling their lines and was completely unapologetic about it. I saw Yokoyama lose it and toss his pen with all his might at the glass window of the recording booth and thought, "What a company I've joined."

―Did the actor know how furious he was?

Takeuchi: Of course. Thinking about it now, you can't hear anything that goes on inside the booth from outside, so maybe that's why they were acting like that (laughs).

Tomita: Even after that we spent a lot of time trying to explain the feeling of distance and emotion in the scene to the actor, and eventually we managed to record something that just about passed. Unfortunately, however, it wasn't fair on the other actors who had also worked hard, and we didn't want to compromise, so we had someone else play the role. Well, Yokoyama was young, after all. These days, rather than throwing his pen he just glares (laughs). He's a lot gentler now than he was back then.

Sakurai: He has mellowed out, but whenever Yokoyama shows up for the recording of a prominent voice actor or actor, the air suddenly feels very strict. I guess that means we can concentrate on our work without reserve, too.

―By the way, coming from MIT Studio, what is your impression of the Ryu ga Gotoku team?

Yamaguchi: I think that Yokoyama and Takeuchi in particular are good at directing. There's rarely ever video to look at when you're providing your voice for Ryu ga Gotoku, so they have to explain it to the actors using only the script and their own words. These explanations are clear and easy to understand.

Takeuchi: I think that's it the director's job to convey the meaning of the lines by saying things like, "This is how it sounded, but this is the kind of impression I wanted it to leave." If you're too frank or restrained in how you tell them, you'll lose the performer's trust.

Sakurai: Usually, when you're inside the recording booth you can't hear any outside noises. If you ask them to wait a moment and the staff start talking, the actor becomes uneasy.

Takeuchi: When an actor sees the people on the other side of the recording booth chattering, they start to think that they're not properly getting the direction. That's why I think that it's important to tell them your directions clearly, concisely and honestly.

Tomita: Yokoyama and Takeuchi call for retakes almost the second the actor is finished speaking their line. You hardly ever hear the stereotypical "please wait a moment" line here.

Takeuchi: Yokoyama says this a lot as well, but I think that the moment the sound director starts to be viewed as a liar, it's all over. I often see people who are too modest to order a retake for performance reasons, and people who use malfunctioning equipment or unwanted noises as an excuse for a retake, but making the actor feel good as they perform doesn't make them put in the effort. The more professional the mindset of the performer, the more stress they'll put on the final quality, so how can we help them to achieve that? In that sense, the recording booth is always also the scene of a struggle.

Yamaguchi: The style of recording voices here is unique. Normally when you're recording for a game, the directing will almost always be managed by a specialist sound director, or you have a separate director do it. You'll never see the person who writes the scenario giving direct instructions.

Tomita: In our case, it's become the norm to have the screenwriter and actor go back and forth with each other. Although, it began with Yokoyama, who had just happened to write the scenario, being suited for sound direction. Whether we're recording voices for battle or the substories, the method of having the person who wrote it giving the directions has been passed through the entire team.

Yamaguchi: It is quite unique (laughs). It's also unique in that the lines change at the recording booth. The script gets furiously rewritten as it's recorded in order to match up things like the performer's recitational habits and age to the sentence endings they use. Some of the actors who aren't used to this speed might be a bit lost, but I think that the directions are reflected more in the actors here than anywhere else.

―It is quite a bit different from the way other game recordings are done.

Sakurai: I think it's because of these honest clashes during recording that the Ryu ga Gotoku team members are so close with the actors - friendly, even. With other companies it's the engineers who tend to be the most frank with everyone, so they're often the ones who are closest with the actors, since they talk directly.

Tomita: That's the style that Yokoyama has created. Actors who aren't used to recording their lines alone are often cast for Ryu ga Gotoku, so I think he naturally learned how to communicate with them. First of all he'll eat lunch with the performers to bring them closer, but I think this is also to make the recording go more smoothly.

Takeuchi: [Takaya] Kuroda and some others are such good friends with the staff that we end up talking for about an hour before recording even begins. What's amazing about Kuroda is that sometimes, doing this makes his voice even better (laughs). Maybe it feels a bit like a test drive.

Ryu ga Gotoku's voice recording is performed at an astounding speed

―Is there a particular reason why Mr. Sakurai has always been the voice recording engineer?

Tomita: The biggest is his speed. He's really fast at reacting to our requests.

Takeuchi: For example, we'll tell him, "Use take three for the first line of the script, the first take for this line on row two, and the second take for the rest," and then tell him to let us hear it right away. If we didn't have the speediness of MIT Studio, headed up by Sakurai, to respond to this then it would be really tough.

Tomita: Yokoyama's requests need to be done particularly quickly. When the recording studio at Sega was being remodelled, he had the cue lamp that lets you know when recording has begun removed.

―Why was that?

Tomita: Right before the sound director presses the cue button, there's an interval to check whether the engineer is prepared. He believes that this interval is unnecessary on top of direction. At our studio, the engineer makes their recording preparations as directions are being given, and then "cue" is pressed the instant the directing is done.

Sakurai: The tempo of the Ryu ga Gotoku team's recordings is definitely faster than that at other places, so you're constantly vigilant (laughs).

Yamaguchi: Basically, though, I think it's a job where we can't say "I can't". Not being able to keep up and saying "I can't record that" is unthinkable.

Tomita: That's why MIT Studio is so amazing.

Yamaguchi: With Ryu ga Gotoku, the number of lines to record is huge, and the cast is more amazing than you would ever normally see, so you can't afford to waste recording time. Despite this the lines are changed even on the day, so it really tests your powers of concentration. We always do our jobs stressed to the limit.

Takeuchi: In order to maintain Ryu ga Gotoku's development speed, people with the skills and professional attitude of people like Yamaguchi and Sakurai are indispensable.

Tomita: With Ryu ga Gotoku, we record a huge amount of voices over the year, so the engineer's proficiency has a direct impact. We currently do our recordings at a studio in the Sega building that was modified specifically for Ryu ga Gotoku, but the most important part, the engineer, comes to us from MIT Studio.

Yamaguchi: Because of this, when the time for recording comes around I'm in contact with Tomita night and day about things like engineers' adjustments and casting (laughs).

Takeuchi: There are a lot of cast members for Ryu ga Gotoku, and a lot of media exposure as well, so we have to record narration specifically for trailers. That booking alone is enough to take up your schedule for an entire day, but it's Tomita who's single-handedly responsible for this.

Tomita: There are times when we'll settle the casting late at night and it'll be like, "We have a recording tomorrow!" It causes trouble for MIT Studio (laughs).

―I can see now how intense your days are. By the way, there are lots of people involved in recording; how do you create a sense of uniformity in terms of direction?

Takeuchi: I'm primarily in charge of recordings for the recurring cast members, so sometimes I'll say that I'm the one in charge. Strictly speaking, however, I'm the person who's there to interpret the game. Nagoshi and Yokoyama exist at the very top as the originators. This means that, rather than telling them how I would want it done, I consider what it is that the game's intentions are and take that answer along to the recording with me. This is the same thing that the battle manager, mini game manager - everyone - has in mind, so I think that creates a sense of uniformity.

Tomita: Takeuchi is quite conscious of and precise about this, so I can watch on with peace of mind. Alongside this, his own sense of originality is also in there. I think he does a good job of directing.

―It's just like he's the "successor" to the director, isn't it?

Sakurai: The exact style of direction is something that you could say is Yokoyama's or Takeuchi's - it changes slightly depending on who's doing it. Basically, though, everyone on the Ryu ga Gotoku team is quite elaborate with their explanations to the performers.

Takeuchi: Most recordings are done solo, so we have to tell them things like, "Your partner in the dialogue is in this kind of mood," or, "This is the kind of performance your partner is giving," but if the explanation isn't right then you end up with weird performances that don't mesh. This is an extreme example, but there are times when the person they're talking to is right in front of them, but their voice is seriously loud or oddly strained - things like that.

Tomita: It's not very nice when someone right in front of you shouts, is it?

―I wouldn't want that, no (laughs).

Sakurai: Having these kinds of things explained to the actors helps out on a technical level, too. For example, if you're just told, "These are the lines we're going to be recording today," then you don't know its connection to the rest of the material and it's really hard work to adjust the recording level. If you can't get a grasp on the volume of their voice, then you end up with situations where the recording you spent all that time on is unusable. But the Ryu ga Gotoku team does a good job of explaining the situation to the actors, so we listen in, too, and are able to adjust the levels.

―That may be one of the skills of an engineer that supports the voice recording of the Ryu ga Gotoku series.