Over the weekend of Anime Boston 2010, I was given the honor of meeting with Greg Ayres for an interview. Mr. Ayres is a popular voice in the anime industry, best known for his voice work on Koyuki from Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad and Chrono from Chrono Crusade.
In the past few years, Mr. Ayres has become a growing force in the fight against piracy, bootlegs, and fansubs. He is a passionate, insightful individual who approaches his fans with open arms and a warm attitude, and his opponents with a razor-sharp wit. He’s the kind of person you immediately feel comfortable around.
I would like to thank Mr. Ayres for his insight, and the opportunity to speak with him. I’d also like to thank Jamison and the rest of the Anime Boston Staff for helping to make this happen.
Note: Interview was edited for clarity.
Anime Herald: I usually like to lead into my interviews with the same question, which is basically “Why anime?” Why get into anime voice acting, get into the anime industry?
Greg Ayres: It’s really funny to ask, because I think most voice actors didn’t pick this. They didn’t go after anime as a profession. Most of us have been in performance in one way or another our whole life. My case, and my brother’s case, since we were about the age of six or seven: professional theatre, musical theatre. I’ve done films, radio, television… anime is the best fit. I have a very bizarre voice (laughs) so I will never play the lead, you know, romantic role in something on television obviously, ’cause I’m not Mr. Poster Boy and work out every day. So this was the best fit for me. It’s a big treat for me and, unlike a lot of other people that do this for a living, I’ve been anime fan since I was a teenager. And it’s funny because I used to never watch dubbed anime. I only watched subtitled anime, so um, it’s an extra special treat for me because I’ve gotten to meet manga-ka and animation creators, and people from, and now because of my work to stop piracy and digital downloading, I got to meet the president of Gonzo International when I was in Anime Expo, and, so it’s almost like being a fan of KISS and getting a call one day from Gene Simmons saying “Hey, you wanna be in the band?” It’s been a huge honor for me because it’s a form of expression that I love. I love animation, and specifically Japanese animation. But I didn’t pick it! (laughs) It picked me. I was just acting and I found this as a great outlet.
Anime Herald: And on the note of piracy, you’ve always been probably the most vocal opponent of piracy I’ve ever heard. You always have bootleg panels, fansub panels, and I noticed that a lot of actors don’t have that same drive, that same focus. So, um…
Greg Ayres: Why?
Anime Herald: Yeah, why such a focus when the general feeling is, like “okay, this is a bad thing, but okay”?
Greg Ayres: Mainly because, like I said, I’m an anime fan, and the people that are around me in my life, from the person I’m about to move in with, to my friends, the person I call my little brother, the people that I bowl with every Friday, they’re anime fans. This is something that we all love and that’s, as long as I’ve been alive, always been there. It’s been there whether I knew that, whether, even my dad’s age – Speed Racer. Even if you didn’t know it was anime, it was anime! It has always been around and, the thought of it not being around, not being accessible to fans is terrifying to me. I also don’t think other voice actors understand the issues because, to a lot of them, it’s just a job. You get called in for a part, and you get the part, and you do it, and you get the money, and, occasionally, fans will find you and whatnot.
I am a fan of all of it – I’m a fan of the companies that work their butts off to get anime to American fans, I am a fan of the original Japanese creators, and it was an accident that I would ever start this journey against piracy. And I never mentioned who it was, but I met a creator and they were curious how I knew so much about their work, and I said “well, I have a friend that has read all of your manga online”. And that started a very interesting conversation, one which she didn’t look very happy to have. And it was very uncomfortable and weird, because she didn’t want to appear to be ugly with me, but she wanted me to know it was not okay for her to read that online, and it’s the first time as an anime fan that I even had to stop and think about it.
And so, from that point on, any time I met a creator, or a manga-ka, or script supervisor, or an animation director or character designer, I asked them how they felt about it. And, almost unanimously, without some concerted effort, they all felt the same way: that this was their hard work and that no one had a right to it for free.
And, as I started to approach anime fans to try to convince them, I found that they were indignant and disrespectful, and, from the generation of fans that I come from, the last thing any of us would ever do is be disrespectful to someone that created anime. And I understand that now we deal with a different breed of anime fans that, they are just in it for their own entertainment value, some of them. And so, it’s very much a point of making them aware that, hey, you’re hurting someone you claim to be a big fan of. I hope that one day, ’cause I believe this is a very tiny planet, I know I will meet this person again. And when I see them, I will say “You know what? I made sure to tell every single person I could your side of the story.”
And, I, it’s something I never thought I would be the person to do. (laughs) I never wanted to teach people to be good. Obviously, I’m a little bit of a troublemaker. But it’s a worthwhile fight, and I’m a fan of Apple Computers and Apple Computers almost died. And now, they’re everywhere! So I think anime fans are passionate and caring, and then, I think if enough people were aware of the issues, and enough people got behind it, we don’t have to worry about it.
But it did take somebody to, I remember when I first started doing this. Even the companies I worked for wouldn’t back me up on this, because nobody wants to say anything that’s an unpopular opinion for fans. You know, like ADV doesn’t want to say “hey, stop downloading,” ’cause they’re like “Ugggh, ADV is mean!” But I don’t mind being the bad guy. Very little of what happens on the internet affects me in real life. I have a group of fans that I love, I have a family that I’m close to, and I like the work that I do so I don’t care if people don’t like me. I just want them to do the right thing, and be respectful of people like Shinichi Watanabe and Daisuke Murayama, and god forbid, Kazuya Minekura and people like that, and people like Nobuo Uematsu. It’s the same thing applies to people downloading his music illegally.
I want people to have the same level of respect that older fans do, because it is an honor for us to get to meet people like that, and see people to hear their work. So, I don’t know how I ended up being that guy, but you just heard that journey!
And I’m happy to say a lot of fans have taken up the flag now. There’s a lady from Eagle Anime, that started a group called “fans against bootlegs,” which has set out to educate people on bootleg plush, and bootleg merchandise, and soundtracks. There’s a group, there’s an anime club at a high school, in fact, that made me really proud. They’re having a biggest anime fan contest, and the person who turns in the most receipts at the end of the year for the most manga and anime and T-shirts, they get this motherload of stuff they’ve been buying at sales and game shops and stuff. They’ll get this huge bonanza of a prize at the end of the year. But I’m very happy to feel like I’m not the only person fighting this fight now. There are lots of anime fans that are aware of what’s going on, and now we really reached the point that anybody that is disagreeing with us is kind of against us. And I really don’t have much to say to those people.
I’m about to retool the panel that got so much controversy because it’s really about us as fans doing the right thing. As far as I’m concerned, the anime distributors have done everything they can at this point to get it to us fast, quick, cheap. Anything less than us responding with applause and thank-yous is disrespectful.
Anime Herald: I know I’ve had to chew some people out over Twitter because they started complaining the simulcast was late, when it’s a free simulcast.
Greg Ayres: (laughing) I love – when we used to have to wait months and years! How anybody can complain about anything being a day late! How dare FUNimation! The One Piece delay was almost 24 hours! You know, like, god forbid. How long did I wait to see a digital copy of Nausicaä? Like, I finally know whether the mystery, whether she’s wearing skirt or pants or you know, like, shorts! So I got my friend’s old, back in the old days, the video tape was so bad, he didn’t think she had any pants on! I was like, “No, she’s got this… skirt-type thing that she wears.” But, yeah, it’s weird. It’s so hard to talk to people that don’t understand that.
Anime Herald: But does it ever feel like sometimes, like, with this massive indignance that it’s just overwhelming? Like, almost like a losing battle at points?
Greg Ayres: It used to feel like that in the beginning, and I had to take a whi- I had to take a break. I had a heart attack last year at a convention. And I’m doing great. I’ve got an amazing doctor. She is super taking care of me, and I’m in better shape than I’ve been in probably twelve years.
But I stopped doing it for a while. There were a lot of people that said I had given up. I’m just the opposite. In the beginning, I felt very defeated. I felt very defeated to deal with kids every time, like, “I don’t care!” and there’s this dude that has a Youtube blog about how much he hated me, and how anime wasn’t political, and blah blah blah and, I’m just the opposite now. I have a renewed faith in fans and a renewed faith in the industry to do what is good, or right I should say. Even when… they’re companies, so they make some natural mistakes. I got to watch ADV make some bad mistakes. I got to watch FUNimation make mistakes. But they’re companies and, at the end of the day, we have to realize as fans that they’re doing everything they can to get anime to us. So fighting the man is only hurting us. So, I feel absolutely different than I used to. I’m glad to say I don’t have to feel like I’m fighting a losing battle or that I’m fighting by myself. I’ve the support of a lot of really good people.
Anime Herald: What would you say that we as, say, myself, or some random fan on the street could do to really help fight against piracy and the whole idea that we should get everything for nothing?
Greg Ayres: This is just a “play it forward” concept, but honestly, the most important thing you can do is educate people around you. I had a real honor to, I felt super-honored that he sought me out to talk to me specifically, Arthur Smith who – I don’t know if he still is, but was the president of Gonzo International, person responsible for Afro Samurai and a lot of really edgy things that Gonzo had done. He and I had a really, really… I was very geeky ’cause I couldn’t believe he wanted to sit and talk about what was going on. And he and I really agreed that there’s no other way to approach this than from an educational standpoint.
You know, Metallica kind of shot the music industry in the foot by whining, complaining about Napster. Because, yeah, while what Napster was doing was hurting them, the approach of “Oh my God! You’re taking this away from my third Mercedes Benz!”
The idea is to educate people that, if you want to be a fan, the way you’re connected to the industry is you are supporting it with your money, which means more anime is made, which you can buy and support and feel like you’re a part of it.
And so, kind of taking Arthur’s words and moving forward with them, if fans want to become involved in this struggle, the easiest thing is to get really well versed on the facts, what’s going on, and then your friends don’t download anime. Make sure your friends, you know, don’t download torrents of anime soundtracks, or buy bootlegs form Neo Records or Son May. That sounds like nothing, but if every single anime fan made it their job to make sure their friends weren’t buying crap, we’d all be buying real stuff (laughs), and none of us would be in the place we are now. So, yeah, to me that’s the most important thing to do is be aware of the facts and educate people around you.
Anime Herald: I actually talked to Tom Wayland yesterday. He said, basically, that if at least one of, if every fan that attended an anime convention bought one DVD, we wouldn’t be in this mess. Would you agree with that?
Greg Ayres: Yep, I would definitely agree with that! Because, while the anime industry has continued to go into the toilet, I’ve watched attendance at anime cons double, triple. I work as an organizer and as a department head at a convention, and I don’t think we’ve ever had a drop in attendance in the years that I’ve, I’ve been on staff for, like, five years now, we’ve never had a drop in attendance. But, while attendance numbers grow and anime fandom grows, DVD sales slip almost 30% each year, which is an alarming rate if we’re becoming so popular.
So, I agree wholeheartedly. Tom’s right. If everybody just bought one DVD, even if it was on sale, we’d see a difference. You throw money at any problem and it might not fix it, but it’s less of a problem! (laughs)
Anime Herald: I think now’s a good time to, I’d like to switch gears a bit toward your career as a voice actor.
Greg Ayres: Uh huh.
Anime Herald: But before I do, I’d just like to ask a random question to lighten things up: Pirates or ninjas?
Greg Ayres: Hmm… um… I’d have to say ninjas, because when ninjas make mistakes, nobody sees it ’cause ninjas are invisible, so you’d always be perfect! (laughs)
Ninjas are not invisible, but they’re so fast, you can’t see them – you and I can’t see them.
Anime Herald: Going back to when you started, did you ever think you’d be the one sitting here, doing the lead roles…
Greg Ayres: Never. (laughs) Never. In fact, I didn’t get a role my first audition at ADV – it was between Kevin Corn and myself for the role of McDougall in Spriggan, and I didn’t get that role. And I didn’t get a number of other roles in the next year. When I finally got in, my first role was in Steel Angel Kurumi.
In my mind, if I was ever in just one anime, and that was it, I would be stoked. You know, to be able to say I was part of something I love – even in the most minor way. I never in a million years thought I would be playing Chrono or Koyuki or, God forbid, something connected to Akira Kurosawa, being Heihachi in Samurai 7. Having the Kurosawa family approach Gonzo and say “If you’re going to tell the story, could we add the name of this family, because it would be an honor.” And like, to even remotely be connected to Kurosawa, even in a six degrees separation of Kevin Bacon way is pretty phenomenal, and I would have never ever assumed that I would do anything like this. I don’t think of myself as a big deal, or a different person. I think I’m a guy who spends way too much much time playing video games and playing with his dog. So, the thought that, seven years from now I would be going to conventions, I’d- (cell phone rings) be scared by Faith’s phone! (laughs) Ah, the thought that I would be doing this, and spending all my time with anime fans, and being around anime is kind of strange for me.
It could’ve easily gone the other way, and I would have been okay with that. Never saw this coming. I was an IT guy. I was working at a law firm when ADV found me, so…
Anime Herald: What would you say your favorite role is?
Greg Ayres: I actually just got asked this. It comes down to two roles, and for two very different reasons. Chrono in Chrono Crusade, because I love the story. And I have Anime Boston to thank for the second half of it, because I was able to meet the creator. Not just the creator, the design for the characters is Daisuke Moriyama but he’s also the storyteller. It’s his story. And I was super fortunate to get to talk to him right before he left to go watch a wrestling match, which was so cool because he all excited about that. But I got to ask him some very important questions about that show and some things I didn’t understand. And, for the answers to come from the storyteller’s mouth, and not my friends, like “oh I know,” but the person who created the story. (laughs) It’d be like a Harry Potter fan meeting J.K. Rowling, you know? I mean, I asked him very specific questions, and the one that impressed me the most, because he’s not a super-religious person, but he did his research. And there was a line that we had in the show, that, where Rosette was about, the Evil Rosette – the spooky dark Rosette – was about to shoot Chrono and she doubled over as if she was about to throw up. And she collapsed. And the line that Chrono had afterwards, he said “I wonder what will be the price of that last stigmata.” As a non-Catholic, I don’t really understand stigmata all that much, I think it’s hand and feet. You know, that’s all ever see in scary movie. It’s hands and feet! And Moriyama was so cute. He said “oh!” And he shook his head no. ‘Cause there was a huge language gap between the two of us, and he said (gestures) and then he pointed to his feet and he said (gestures). And then he said (gestures). ‘Course, for spear. And I was like “… OH! That!” And just being able to ask these kinds of questions of the person whose story it was. To know that both endings were created by him, that the manga ends very differently from the anime and that they’re both his stories, made that show very special to me. And it made recording the end of that show, because I wasn’t finished recording that show, so I went and finished it with this new super-geekiness. Like “oh my God, I just met that guy!”
And then the other would be Beck, because not only was it a show I wanted to work on for a really long time, and being a big music person and a DJ and a punk rock kid, music has always been a part of my life. To be a part of that show and to get to play a kid that is, and I just heard it four times in my last autograph session, a kid that is trying to find his way, and figures out that he wants to do something and puts his mind to it and does it, and succeeds, and really, by the end of the story wins.
More importantly, so many kids have told me that that show has been such a huge inspiration for them, and it’s gotten them into music. And one little girl was like “Yeah, it got me wantin’ to play the bass!” Which, (laughs) to hear a girl say she wants to play electric bass is a pretty big deal! And so I couldn’t pick. Both of those shows are special to me for different reasons, but those are my two. Definitely.
Anime Herald: On the flip side, are there any shows that you look at, and you’re like “ehh, I kinda wish I hadn’t done that.”
Greg Ayres: (laughs) Yeah, but we can’t talk about those, usually. Because, as an anime fan I understand that what is my least favorite show is somebody’s favorite. Their just end all be all reason to exist. And that’s the cool thing about fandom.
Like, let’s say I was just the biggest Ping Pong Club fan out there. There is somebody else that loves Ping Pong Club and we could get super nerdy about it and talk about how it was South Park before there was South Park. And so, like, I don’t ever talk about shows I don’t like. There are shows that the fandom has bothered me. I know a lot of people that are crazy about FMA [Fullmetal Alchamist – ed] and I think some of the FMA fans have made me kind of crazy at times. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy working on the show. I love my character in FMA, but I don’t necessarily always want to do the squeals and the wiggles of fans, because I think they’re not always nice to people that are Inu Yasha fans or, god forbid, us big robot guys.
(laughs) You know, like, I think sometimes they lose track of the fact that before there was FMA, there was Inu Yasha, and before there was that there was Gundam and Ranma and Eva…
Anime Herald: How much would you say things have really changed, since ADV kind of, well, kind of became Section23?
Greg Ayres: Well, they didn’t become Section23.
Anime Herald: According to the reports, they liquidated-
Greg Ayres: I’m gonna fix this, because I get angry when I read the Wikipedia article on ADV. There are so many things in that – first of all, Wikipedia is not the encyclopedia of right, as I’ve had many really horrible things – people defaced and vandalized my page and write things that are not true.
ADV does not exist anymore. The company Section23 is one company. Seraphim Studios – probably the closest thing you could equate to ADV is Seraphim studios, which was Amusement Park Media. That studio and its engineers, and some of its directors have been purchased – no different than an acquisition is made with a company.
But people on Wikipedia calling it “Neo-ADV;” it is not the same company. That company is, that company no longer exists.
A lot of the same people are there. A lot of the same directors I’ve worked with, but not all of them. Some of my favorite directors will probably not work in this industry anymore, and it’s a shame. I feel grateful that I still work with Matt Greenfield and Stephen Foster. I feel grateful that the studio in Houston still exists, but it’s not ADV.
So, fix that quick. It’s not “Neo-ADV.” And they’re very different companies. Seraphim is the studios, Section23 is a distribution point, Sentai Holdings is a licensing company. They’re very different parts, and they don’t act the same. We’re more equated to what Bang-Zoom (something drops) Boom Zoom! (chuckle) What Bang-Zoom in California does. Seraphim is a gun for hire. We don’t just do ADV stuff, as obvious with Halo Legends. You know, Halo Legends was obviously done for (laughs) someone way bigger than this. But it’s not.
But I think there is a difference in the fact that people understand that now that we have no Geneon, no ADV, that Manga is a shell of what it used to be – not manga, but the company Manga – Central Park Media has had to change everything about what they do. And FUNimation while trying to appear, trying to keep a nice appearance, has also felt the weight of all of this. It has not been at no expense to FUNimation that all of this has happened. It’s very hard for them to do some of the things that they would like to do because there is not a lot a money.
I think people realize the gravity of the situation, but I don’t think anybody, I don’t think collectively as fans, we put any motion in play to give anybody any assurance. I think right now, we’re kind of Chicken Little-ing. We’re running around saying “the sky is falling,” but nobody is moving in one specific direction. I think that, like I said, there are people that know what’s going on now, and are trying to do everything they can. And now, I kind of think it’s the law of fate that will decide what happens next. I think that, if the anime industry dies at its own hands, that it’s our fault and that’s something we have to live with. If it survives by our hands, then we have something to feel proud of because it’s something we love, and we’ve done something to help it. But things have changed, but I don’t know if enough has changed since last year, even two years ago at this time.
I try to keep hopeful. I keep Apple Computers in mind every time I feel beaten. Because, boy the 1980s and the beginning of the ’90s were horrible to that company. And all of my PC friends would laugh at me, “Oh, you’re using a Mac? Well, that’s a cute little toy!” Well, most of them have iPhones now, so they really can’t say much to me about my Mac! So I would like to hope that, at some point, that anime companies, or the industry would have that kind of a renaissance, but I don’t know yet. (laughs) I’m just kind of waiting this one out.
Anime Herald: I think at this point, we all are.
Greg Ayres: Yeah.
Anime Herald: We’re all trying to remain hopeful, but it’s difficult.
Greg Ayres: It is difficult. There are days where I feel very defeated, as far as just how late – I wish I started screaming on the mountain earlier, which I was doing it about four years before anybody knew there was a real big problem. I still wish that I started earlier. But, you know, I’m keeping my chin up. I don’t believe in saying any battle’s over until it’s over.
Anime Herald: I’d just like to close off with, do you have anything you’d like to say to your fans, our readers?
Greg Ayres: I would say thank you for being just like me, and loving just the genre of animation, and culture, and music, and everything that anime – and really geek fandom – entails, because I consider myself a geek too. Which is not all anime. But I would say keep being passionate about what you love, and keep coming to conventions, keep buying DVDs, keep making new friends, keep having fun playing Smash Bros. and be nice to each other! There’s a lot of bullying going on in anime fandom and us nerds can’t afford to act like jocks. (laughs) There’s no room for that. There’s no room for any of this, any of the -chan bullying. It’s crap. We’re all here ’cause we like the same stuff, and we’re here to be nice to each other and make friends. The outside world does a great job of kicking my butt. I don’t need it here, too. So, I would say be nice to each other, and drink lots of coffee! (laughs) No, I’m kidding! But yeah, that’s pretty much it.