ANN’s coverage of Anime Expo 2023 sponsored by Yen Press!
Fans of the Love Live! Series received a rare treat at this year’s Anime Expo with special guests representing three different generations from the long-running franchise. In attendance was Aika Kobayashi, who voices Yoshiko Tsushima in Love Live! Sunshine!! and Yohane from the new Yohane the Parhelion -SUNSHINE in the MIRROR-; Mayu Sagara, who voices Kasumi Nakasu in Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club; and Sayuri Date, who voices Kanon Shibuya in Love Live! Superstar!!. The guests participated in a special event with Q&As, screenings, and a special sing-along session with fans.
We were fortunate to sit down with the voice actresses for a special interview to talk about their experiences in Love Live! series and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.
How does it feel to be in Los Angeles, representing three different generations of the Love Live! Series?
Aika Kobayashi: I’m Aika Kobayashi. I voice Yohane from Yohane the Parhelion -SUNSHINE in the MIRROR– and Yoshiko Tsushima from Love Live! Sunshine!!. As Aqours, I’ve had the opportunity to visit Los Angeles to see you all a number of times at live performances and events while I’ve been active with Love Live! Sunshine!! for a long time. I’m delighted to be able to come back, this time also as Yohane from Yohane the Parhelion. I’ve watched the world of the Love Live! Series grow and expand, and the community of fans who cheer us on has grown and expanded along with it. I want to keep doing my best to earn our fans’ love and support.
Mayu Sagara: Hi, I’m Mayu Sagara, and I voice Kasumi Nakasu. First off, I would say it’s thanks to the Love Live! Series and its popularity as a series that I can come to Anime Expo like this, and I’m filled with joy. I’m here representing Nijigasaki, so I want to spread awareness of it. I absolutely love Nijigasaki. We’ve just been through this period where people couldn’t come to Japan, and people in Japan couldn’t come here, so I’m thrilled that I can finally come here to share it with fans. Not long ago, we heard from so many fans expressing their support, so I really felt glad that I could come here and meet everyone. I’m truly happy and thankful.
Sayuri Date: Hello, I’m Sayuri Date. I voice Kanon Shibuya. It’s my first time going abroad representing Liella!, and I’m incredibly humbled. I was really nervous before coming, but actually being here and seeing so many people here at the show, many of them wearing merch of Kanon-chan, Liella!, and other Love Live! Series merch, I felt both very relieved and happy. That nervousness I was feeling changed to relief.
One of the things I love about the world of the Love Live! Series is how often new school idols are inspired by their predecessors. Do you draw inspiration from the performances of the voice actors who came before you? Which member inspired you the most? What do you believe is your group’s unique strength?
Aika Kobayashi: When it was determined that we would be the next active group, all nine of us were given a chance to go see μ’s’ Tokyo Dome performance together. When we saw just how brightly they shined, we thought, “Can we do this?” Seeing those nine people up on the stage doing the same movements as the nine members on the monitor helped us make up our minds to go for it. That μ’s performance was really influential for me, and even in the anime, μ’s has always been a group Aqours looked up to. I’d think, “I want to catch up to them someday, even if I might not reach them.” So I really believe μ’s is the ideal I strive for. They genuinely are legendary, even to us. They’re a wonderful group, a pillar of the Love Live! Series. For Aqours, we’ve had quite a few times where we’ve failed in the anime and many times when we’ve felt discouraged. But I think Aqours has the resilience to aim high and keep running straight ahead without giving up. We’re running with everything we’ve got. I think that’s Aqours’ strength.
Mayu Sagara: For me personally, ever since I started thinking that I wanted to become a voice actor and started aiming for it, I really loved Aya Uchida, and I really loved Kotori-chan. When I saw her standing on stage as Kotori-chan, I thought, “Wow, Kotori-chan really exists!” When I was in voice actor training school during high school, I was really moved by the fact that voice actors don’t simply act their roles; they also carry the weight of that member on their backs and stand on stage for live performances, showing us fans that that member is really there standing in front of them. At that time, I had no idea that I would be in the position I’m in now, but Aya Uchida is the one who made me think that in the future when I became a voice actor, I’d like to have fans come to see me and have that same feeling of thinking that “that’s really one of the members!” That’s very important to me, and I put everything into being able to stand on stage as Kasumi. So in that sense, I was most influenced by Uchida-san’s Kotori-chan.
I’d say our strength as Nijigasaki is that our group isn’t a “group” per se. As solo idols, we all have our established individualities and things we want to do, and each of us is developing our strengths. So it’s when we all come together for a full group song, everyone’s individualities come together, and you can feel this power that builds up and erupt like an explosion. That’s Nijigasaki’s strength. Around October, I’ll be releasing a new solo song for the first time in a while, so I hope I can feel that wonderful energy of each of the other members.
Sayuri Date: I wouldn’t say there’s one specific member I would immediately point to. I’ve studied each group a fair bit, and through learning from each group, I honestly have the most trouble grasping the dancing. As a fan, I had always paid more attention to the singing than the dancing. When I understood how difficult it was to get our choreography to be in sync, I realized how much everyone had been doing their best to get it right, and I felt that I needed to try my hardest too. So μ’s, Aqours, and Nijigasaki were all inspirations to me.
Then there’s Liella!, which in my mind is charting new territory with the music and so on, almost to the point where for a moment you wonder, “Is this a Love Live! Series song?”. Besides music, the Love Live! Superstar!! anime is also charting new territory with having three seasons and depicting the school year advancing. Liella! as a group is getting to try out all these new things that haven’t been done in the Love Live! Series before. So I think that is our strong point. But from the performance aspect, our member count is going up. We have gone from 5, to 9, up to 11 members. So as you’d expect, moving in formation with five members is already hard, but doing it with 11 is even more challenging. Of course, that’s where we can show off our hard work, so that’s something I consider a strength.
The concept of school idols is especially popular because it depicts the idea that anyone can become an idol and fulfill their dreams with the desire to pursue it. What message do you have for your fans who want to dream big?
Aika Kobayashi: I think when things that you really love come together, things that you have fun doing, that’s when a dream starts to take shape. So don’t lose sight of that feeling of “I love this!” and keep building on it. Give it your best. And even if it doesn’t work out, just like Aqours has had things not work out before, you’ll be able to find a wonderful new dream. So don’t let go of that feeling of “I don’t want to give up!”, You’ll find a way around it, and if it’s something you love doing, then you’ll be okay. I feel the same way, just as those lyrics in the songs sung by Aqours.
Mayu Sagara: This is especially the case for Nijigasaki because we all have these things each of us is striving for. The struggle the members experience is something that fans who are chasing big dreams can relate to. I think it’s really important to have something you really want to do, some kind of dream, because it’s what instills passion. When you have that, you find the strength to keep going even when it’s not coming together or when it feels like time is flying by. When you’re doing something you want to do, you shine the brightest. So if you have a big dream, I want you to run straight toward what you want to do, and even though you may face some kind of wall or feel like giving up, I want you to remember the feeling of wanting to do something, cherish it, and make various dreams come true. So I would say to fans following their dreams, keep running straight toward what you want to do. There will be times when you hit a wall or feel like giving up, but remember how much you want to do that thing, hold onto it, and make those dreams a reality!
Sayuri Date: For the What a Wonderful Dream!! tour that capped off the Liella! Second Love Live! Tour, which we were doing when we had five members, the show’s theme was dreams. During the Second Live Tour, while the five of us would be doing things like rehearsing, the bonds between members gradually deepened. Something we talked about was maybe dreams don’t have sizes like “big” or “small.” We talked about that concept with each other while MC-ing the live show. We’d get letters and comments from fans about how they’ve got a big dream right now, but they still can’t reach it. But, the act of facing that challenge, even when you have doubts – that’s the important part, not the size. I learned that from everyone on the Second Live Tour. So if you have even just one dream, and that hurdle seems really high, but you still want to go for it, if you have that feeling, let’s make it come true together with Liella! That’s the kind of presence I think all of the members want to be for the fans. That’s the sentiment I want to express to our fans.
All of the idols you represent have their own vulnerabilities and personal challenges to overcome but grow immensely as they come out of their shells. Do you feel like you grew alongside them? What has this experience taught you?
Aika Kobayashi: Yohane’s someone who stumbled quite a bit right from the entrance ceremony. She unabashedly shares her passion, and everyone in class is like, “What’s with this girl?” and that reaction is such a shock for her that she has trouble coming to school. For Yohane, to have Aqours become her companions, accept what she’s passionate about, and invite her in, that’s an experience she hasn’t had before. I have times when I can relate to that—especially the part about wondering if it’s okay to share what I love. I adore Yohane and want to shout my love for her from the rooftops. I’ll work hard to go on stage and be the best Yohane, to be there on stage together with her. Like making sure I wink on the correct side! Since Yohane came into my life, I’ve been trying to get closer to her, like practicing how to wink and things like that. I hope to see and experience all sorts of things together with Yohane.
Mayu Sagara: I’ve been active with the group for a long time now, but in the early days, as a voice actress, I still didn’t have that many roles, and not that much experience singing or dancing, I’ve been walking the path together with Kasumi. In the series, Kasumi doesn’t have that much stamina, so when everyone’s running, she’ll be behind them wheezing, but she gradually grows by putting in a lot of effort. When I see that, I feel like I have to do my best too. I have grown, too, by being on this journey together with her. For Nijigasaki, it’s like that for everyone. Well, maybe not for some. But that’s how it all started, with all of us trying to figure it out together. In the series, too, from the start, the group isn’t doing so great, and the members have to come together and build that unity. And we went through that same process over a long period of working together, gradually building that unity, sharing what we’re thinking with each other, and a shared mindset of “let’s make things even better.” That growth shows in our performances too, but that sense of purpose, that essence, that mentality developed too.
What I learned from Kasumi during that time is… Kasumi’s always saying, “Look how cute I am,” right? But sometimes, she gets a little worried about whether she’s actually cute or not. And in those moments, the other members will reassure her, “Don’t say that, Kasumi, you’re cute!” When she’s feeling down, everyone in the group and the people around her will say things to cheer her up. So when I’m feeling down, thinking, “I wish I could’ve done that better,” the fans and the other members will say things to support me, like, “No, that was great!” And it makes me feel like I can keep trying my best. These are my companions. They’re all cheering me on. That positive outlook is what I learned from Kasumi. I’m sure it was the same for Kasumi. Going through that kind of experience now, I feel everyone supporting me. Being able to tap into the feeling that I can do my best, which comes from the strength of fans’ support, is very important to me. That is something I want to carry forward. The power I have is thanks to the power everyone else gives me. That’s what Kasumi taught me. That and, you know, you’ll get through it! It’ll be fine! Whatever comes your way, you’ll make it. I think that way of thinking is essential.
Sayuri Date: Kanon-chan is who I play, and she’s a girl who starts off in a pretty depressed state from the first episode. Conversely, the Kanon-chan of the past shined much brighter. But there’s this thing that happens that doesn’t go well for her, and she has this period of feeling really down. That’s how the present Kanon-chan’s story starts. I was drawn to the Kanon-chan from that period. Kanon-chan doesn’t think she can be good at everything. She’s simply doing what she loves and doesn’t care if she’s good at it or not. She sings because she loves it, even if things aren’t going well and she’s feeling down. That gave me so much courage. She keeps growing, gradually, step by step, and I felt like I had to follow that myself. It was hard. I mean, there was a time when I was worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up.
How do I put it? In the anime, Kanon-chan is really good at singing. She has leadership. She’s a girl who will reach out to the other members and is very good at getting everything together. There was a time when I was in such a hurry to be like that myself, and I really felt this distance between me and her. But feeling that distance made me reflect on how there are days when I feel more down than I was in the past. There are times when I think things aren’t going so well. But then I remember how Kanon-chan wasn’t always going through a rough patch like that; she has always overcome it. Because I know that side of her, even without breaking through that shell, even if it feels like I’m not growing, that feeling is good for me to work through. And I learned from her that it’s OK to be down sometimes. That’s part of the struggle.
What has surprised you the most so far from your experience as a part of the Love Live! Series?
Aika Kobayashi: What surprised me most was the number of Twitter followers suddenly shooting up. That made me understand just how many people like Love Live! Series, but also that people followed us because they had such high hopes for us. It made me really happy, of course, but it also made me feel like I had to try my best. So yeah, I was surprised by my follower count jumping really high instantly. My notifications wouldn’t stop.
Mayu Sagara: For me, something that’s been surprising is how I get called Kasumi wherever I go. I wonder if that’s something unique to the Love Live! Series. Typically an actress would be called by their regular actress name, and in live performances, of course, I would be Kasumi, but even during rehearsals, I’m called Kasumi-chan. Yeah, not Sagara-san; they definitely refer to me as Kasumi-chan. There’s a basis for that kind of atmosphere, though. To put it into words, “Become one with your member,” as the saying goes. That’s the Love Live! Series’ secret weapon. In this wonderful series, in the live performances, I think there’s this connection you have with them.
So yeah, I’m called Kasumi-chan wherever I go. When I first got started with Love Live! I was surprised by that. “Hm? Oh, um, yes. That’s me. I’m Kasumi.”
Have you ever accidentally introduced yourself as Kasumi in real life?
In real life? (laughs) Definitely never in real life. I’m used to it all now, though.
Sayuri Date: How fast time flies! It’s now been three years since I’ve been an active member. The Love Live! Series made me want to enter this world, having seen it and thinking how I’d love to join. I was fortunate enough to audition and be chosen, so that’s how things started for me. When I look back at my time as a high school student, time has passed ridiculously fast. It’s already been three years, but my sense of time is off. Things that I thought were forever ago, when I think back, I realize that it hasn’t been that long since they happened. It depends on the event, but my sense of time is just off. So I guess it’s more than time simply feeling fast. For Kanon-chan and the other girls, since it’s the story of a group of high school students, it makes sense to follow them over three years. Then they graduate, but when I’m in the same position as Kanon-chan, and it’s actually my own graduation, I kind of can’t believe it. Of course, it’s such a joy spending every day with the other members, whom I love, and feeling like time is flying by is a good indication that it’s fulfilling and that every day is that much fun. So yeah, that’s been the most surprising thing, and I’m sure it’ll continue to surprise me.
Your new project, Yohane the Parhelion -SUNSHINE in the MIRROR-, looks like a lot of fun! Is there anything you paid close attention to when voicing Yohane? In your personal opinion, how do you respectively view Yoshiko from Love Live! Sunshine!! and Yohane from Yohane the Parhelion?
Aika Kobayashi: Yes, so I’m playing the role of Yohane in this new work, and Yohane-chan has this slightly child-like aspect to her. Yohane the Parhelion is a story where Yohane forges new friendships, and as their kindness touches her, that somewhat child-like side of her grows and develops. At least, in the beginning, I portray her as childlike, like someone you want to encourage. Like, “Come on, you’ve got this!” So I tried to leave a little bit of that immaturity in there when playing her.
Between Yoshiko from Love Live! Sunshine!! and Yohane from Yohane the Parhelion; there isn’t much of a difference for me. I really love both of them, and everyone who watches will probably feel the same way. So rather than being distinct, they have a bit of mystery to them. They’re similar but not quite the same.
Some of your fans have been cheering for Love Live! Series for over a decade! Do you have any special messages for those who have been here since Day 1, and also those who are new to the world of Love Live! Series?
Aika Kobayashi: This is my… ninth year with Aqours, and as I’ve worked hard to give it my all during that time, I’ve gained so many companions. Each and every one of them is great in their own way. I’m grateful to anyone who watches something from the series, but as a series, you’ll be able to understand more and more how wonderful the members are.
For any fans who are new to the series and who haven’t experienced any of the live shows, I want you to come. I hope Aqours will get to perform in LA again in the future. Thank you for your support.
Mayu Sagara: Once again, I’m Mayu Sagara, and I play Kasumi Nakasu. Thanks to those who’ve supported me from the very beginning, I can be a part of the Love Live! Series and all of its activities like this. So, thank you so much to all of you who were there from the get-go! It’s true. I can’t thank you enough.
And to those of you who recently came to know about Love Live! Series, there’s a lot of content in the works, and I’m sure there will be a lot of firsts, so I hope you like all the fresh new things coming your way. Where there are school idols, there will be fans, and I hope everyone can have fun with all the supporter activities. That goes for both Nijigasaki and everyone’s solo efforts.
To both the fans who have been there since the beginning and to new fans who have come to support us along the way, I want to say thank you so much. All of the members have been thinking it would be great if someday we could all come here to Los Angeles at the same time. Everyone was so jealous when it was decided that I’d be visiting this time, so someday… we will! If I say it out loud, maybe it will happen, right? Is it okay for me to say that? They might get mad at me if not, but we all want to see everyone! I’m saying it now, so please wait patiently for us. Thank you for supporting Nijigasaki and the Love Live! Series!
Sayuri Date: First of all, thank you so much for always cheering us on. It’s my third year now with Love Live! Superstar!! Liella!, as I was just mentioning. In the beginning, I personally admired the Love Live! Series, and then I auditioned to join, but actually getting to do it for real, I think to myself how grateful I am to be a part of this wonderful and expansive series. I bet all of the members feel the same way. It’s great that the fans warmly welcomed and cheered us on. There was a period at the beginning where Liella! couldn’t be in front of an audience, and I’m so thankful that everyone can now come to our performances, and I can see everyone in person. I’ll never forget seeing everyone’s faces for the first time and being able to share that with the other members I love makes me incredibly happy.
The Love Live! Superstar!! anime is going into its third season, so I hope everyone will watch it. The number of members is going up from five, to nine, to eleven, and having eleven members brings a whole new feel to Liella!’s songs. Of course, I hope people will also come to see our live performance.
And it’s not just Love Live! Superstar!!, but with other new endeavors like Love Live! Hasu no sora Jogakuin School Idol Club, School Idol Musical, the scope is getting even bigger. I want to see these live performances myself too! I think it’s just wonderful. So it would make me so happy for everyone to keep supporting this ever-expanding series.
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