Over the weekend of Anime Boston, I was granted an opportunity to speak with one of the anime industry’s most experienced personalities. He currently fills the position of voice director for Pokemon. In addition, his voice acting resume sports over 100 titles including Ikki Tousen, Genshiken, and Pokemon. Wayland recently passed a major milestone as he celebrated his tenth year in the industry.
Thanks to the gracious staff at Anime Boston, I was given an opportunity to pick the brain of the rock star turned anime industry icon. I would like to offer my deepest thanks to Mr. Wayland, and everybody else who helped to make this happen.
In the interest of full disclosure, we edited this interview for clarity. Original date of the interview was April 2, 2010. The interview was conducted at Anime Boston 2010 in the Sheraton Boston Hotel’s Conference Room.
Anime Dream: First off, I really am kind of curious: Why anime? Why did you get into the anime industry?
Tom Wayland: You know, ah, not on purpose, and I think that you will find with most of the people who work in this business as actors, or as a production person, it was never their intention. Not to say that it was anyone’s intention not to. But, honestly, after college – I was in school for acting at NYU – and, but when I was in college, I got more into playing with bands. And that’s what I did for a little while for a while after I graduated. I was just a rock star. It was great, um, but as most, you know, people might realize, the average career life expectancy of a “rock star” (quote-unquote) is not really that long. Not everybody gets to be Aerosmith or the Rolling Stones. You know, the band, we did pretty well for a while, we split up, and I had to get a job.
And ultimately I ended up seeing an ad in the New York Times for a DVD producer role. I got into production stuff for a little bit, you know, having played with the bands for a while, being in a recording studio. So, I had an understanding of this, that, and the other. And, in terms of anime, I mean I knew what it was. I mean, when I was, like, six, I watched G-Force and Star Blazers, but I didn’t know they were anime. They were just cartoons, you know? When I was in high school, I had friends who were into anime, but I was never into it. But I was aware of, like, Akira and Robotech and things like that. But really, it was just kind of incidental. I needed a job, here was a job I thought I could do. Sounded interesting, so I went and interviewed.
Central Park Media, they were like “it’s anime,” and I’m like “OK, I know what that is.” And I sort of talked my way into it, because I didn’t really know anything about DVD, except kind of what its creative capabilities were. You know, it’s not just looking, watching a movie. I mean, you have all the features you can do, and all these extra things, and whatever. And I sort of sold myself to them, like, in the interview, said I can really, whatever. “I’m the smartest guy you can pick. There’s no way you can do better than me. I need a job, so hire me!” And they did! So, so that was that. And I just kind of got more entrenched in the industry as it went, because I was producing DVDs. But within six or eight months, I was producing all of their English language dubs. And then, I was directing them. And then I got back into being an actor, because while I was at Central Park Media, it was sort of a conflict of interest. I couldn’t really do – I couldn’t go after other companies, but as soon as I went independent, I could. And then I, you know, so I’ve been doing all of that stuff ever since.
Anime Dream: What role would you say you like the most, though? Director, actor, producer?
Tom Wayland: Uh, you know, acting is fun, and the actors – they’re kind of the stars. You go to the conventions here, right?
Anime Dream: Right.
Tom Wayland: People everybody wants to see is, like, Vic Mignogna, because he’s, like, big star voice actor guy. Um, but as the director, I work way more than any of them, you know? I have kids, and all that, and a mortgage. So, and it is fun to be the boss, you know? Not that I’m, like, the ultimate boss. I mean everybody answers to somebody. Being a director, you often answer to the producers. But the director is, I think, is my favorite thing, because it is a creative job and, yet, you are still kind of in control of things. You are the boss in many ways, but it is still very creative. And, when you’re an actor, yeah, it’s fun, but you don’t… there’s not a lot of sense of completion of a lot of things when you’re an actor because you’ll go in and you’ll do your lines for your character, and that’s all you’ll see of the show.
I was just telling somebody recently I just did Ikki Tousen. I played this guy named Kakuto. And, uh, it’s a fan service kind of show, so you get all the silly panty shots and I don’t see any of that as my character! I’m like, “I thought this show was supposed to have boobs in it! I don’t get it!” You know, because my character’s really sort of sullen and whatnot, like in the second season in particular. And that’s all you see. But as the director, it’s much more of a complete vision. When it’s finished, you’re like “wow, look what I just did.” You know, made this whole thing. So, I think I really love acting. But being a director is, I think, the best gig. And also, it’s much more work – regular work, steady work. You know, I stayed in this business so long because I can act, I can direct, and I can produce. And sometimes, you go where the work is.
Anime Dream: So just having all three has just been a huge asset for you?
Tom Wayland: Oh yeah. Oh yeah, definitely!
Anime Dream:On a less serious note, you tend to have, especially coming here, a way of just pushing the fans’ buttons. Last year, you beat the crap out of Wally the Green Monster. This year, you kind of started berating the Red Sox. (laughs) Do you find that they take it in good humor, the fans?
Tom Wayland: I think they understand it. And I wasn’t berating the Red Sox! I was praising the Yankees. And the Red Sox fans take that as berating the Red Sox! (laughs) But, you know, I’m from New York and I’ve been a Yankee fan my whole life, and I love baseball. And I’ve gotta tell you – baseball has never been more exciting in my whole life than when the Red Sox are good. ‘Cause being a Red Sox fan or a Yankee fan isn’t as much fun without that other team, okay? So I have that kind of perspective on it.
Now, I don’t hate them. But when they’re playing the Yankees head to head, oh, you bet I want them to lose! I don’t want them to suck! ‘Cause what fun is that? This year, it’s kind of a unique opportunity to hear at Anime Boston because, as I said at opening ceremonies, I have brought the Yankees with me this year. Because the Yankees and the Red Sox open the Major League Baseball season Sunday night at Fenway Park, which is awesome. I’m not going to the game, (laughs) but just to be here for it is actually a lot of fun. So, um, but I have a pretty good relationship with the fans at Boston. I mean, I’ve always been treated really well by them, and they’ve been really cool, and I’ve been at every Anime Boston. So I think there’s definitely understanding between me and them that it’s… it’s in fun. Certainly, people take their baseball seriously, as do I. Which is a good thing, but I think they get the joke and I get it right back, so…
Anime Dream: I kind of noticed that, as well. You’ve been here since Anime Boston ’03, and I’ve been here for most of those years. And I’ve noticed that you’ve been to every single convention. What does keep you coming back? Is it the fans, or something else?
Tom Wayland: Well, I, yeah. It’s a combination of things. Certainly the fans. They seem to appreciate the stuff that I do, and I appreciate that, and we have a lot of fun together up here. I’ve made a lot of friends up here over the years, in New England. And it’s great to come up to see all that.
The convention itself, they treat me very well. Me and my family, because I’m here with my wife and three kids. And we have a good time. I mean, Boston is a fun city, you know? So, it’s a combination of all of those things, really. I mean, that I feel really welcome here. And I’ve gotta tell you, since the first convention, I know there have been bumps in the road. I know a couple of years ago – the registration nightmare thing, whatever. But from the first year, this has always felt like they’ve had it together. I’ve never felt like nobody knew what was going on. Someone was always always there to kind of guide this, that, and the other. And a lot of that is the con staff. One guy I will shout out in particular, his name is Mike Lee and he does all the technical stuff. That dude is MacGuyver. Give him a stick of gum and a paper clip and he will make you a frickin’ atomic bomb. And he’s a friend too, now, after having worked with him at these things for so long. But he’s one guy, that if I know he’s anywhere in this city, I’m like, I don’t worry at all.
Technically, everything will be fine. ‘Cause that’s my thing at conventions, is just technical wise. I’m like, “here’s what I need, just make sure it’s there and everything will be fine.” Then I get down there and they’re like “oh, we don’t have a DVD player!” But I’m like “I told you I needed one! (mock frustrated noise)” You know, that’s never happened here, and it won’t. If you have any weird cable or connector that you need, Mike has one on his person somewhere. He’ll be all “(pop!) here!” You know, so, yeah. So I… everything about it. Love the fans, I love the city, and I love the con staff!
Anime Dream: I do like to ask around to, you know, co-workers, friends, see if they can also add questions to the interview.
Tom Wayland: Sure.
Anime Dream: I’ve noticed that the biggest one, after I mention that you’re a producer is “what does a producer do?” I was wondering if you would be able to sum that up in a few words?
Tom Wayland: Okay, well, the thing is, I’m not really a producer so much now. I direct and act, but I have produced a lot of things. And, occasionally, I’ll still get involved in that.
A producer is kind of the coordinator of a project. Sort of the manager of something. When you’re a producer, you deal with budget, whereas down from there, if you’re a director, or you’re talent, things like that don’t matter to you. But it’s like, you manage the budget. You manage the schedule. You make sure everything that needs to get done gets done on time, on budget, and the quality is where it needs to be. Those three things are extremely hard to juggle and they fight each other. Just viciously. Worse than the Red Sox and the Yankees, I tell you — time, budget quality.
Most times, the saying is “you have time but your quality…” that you really get to pick two. If you have your shit together, you can do all three, but you need to be organized. And my background as a producer, I think, has made me more efficient and effective as a director because I have a sense for that. I’m not, certainly I take the artistic aspects into account, but I’m not going to be an artiste and sort of blow the budget by going way over and just taking too long on certain things. And just, not, you’ve gotta understand it’s a job, it’s work. But if you’re organized, and you’re working with good people: good experienced actors, good writers, especially good writers. Nothing will slow down and screw up your production like a bad script. You can do things on time, on budget, and the quality will be spectacular.
But yeah, producer, you’re sort of the overseer of all of those things. You need to balance them out. And, you know, you’re sort of the manager, as it were.
Anime Dream: All right, for a director, I’ve heard a lot of people say it’s hard to get exactly the reaction you want from some of the talent. Do you have any tricks to get any, particular reactions for certain things, or anything that would help the process?
Tom Wayland: Well, I’m lucky that I get to work with really good talent on a lot of projects. Certainly anything that I can cast and bring in a lot of these people I’ve worked with from a lot of years. You know, some of them just get it. But sometimes, everybody can hit a roadblock. And the thing is, when you do ADR, which is recording to picture, you go one character at a time, one actor at a time. So, depending on where you fall in the recording process, you might be working off of nobody. You know, let’s say I’m recording a scene between your character and my character. And my character’s not in there yet. So you have to go in the booth and read against nobody. So, something you can do for a particular thing, if there’s, like a reaction or the way you want somebody to read the line, or react to something is you read with them. You know, you read them in. And I’ll, you know, I’ll ask you a question, be like “hey man, blah blah blah!” And your line is the answer. You know, so that way, it’s much more organic. ‘Cause they won’t have to pretend to answer this question or react to this thing. They can really do it.
I like to be more hands-off at first with directing, and let the actors just do their thing. And if it’s a really weird, specific thing then I’ll, like, set them up and be like “Okay, it has to be like this,” because of the lip flap or because of whatever. But otherwise, I like the actor to well, “give me what you’ve got.” And then I’ll be like “okay, that’s good, but maybe we’ll try this,” or, you know. Usually the first instinct is the best.
Anime Dream: What would you say is the hardest part of working as a director?
Tom Wayland: Well, it depends, because every project is different. And that’s the thing — you’ve gotta honor the wishes of who you’re working for, you know? Especially when working on anime, there’s a lot of people that I’ve worked for — producers or companies — that want it to be just like the Japanese. You know, don’t alter anything, make it just like the Japanese as possible. that can be difficult sometimes, because you’re like “I think we’re missing an opportunity at humor here,” or “this line is kind of clunky. Does it really come across?”
But some people are like, “do whatever you want!” And there’s this big freedom wide-openness to sort of change and alter things. And then that can become an issue, because you don’t want to change too much. I think it’s good to have freedom because I think not every joke is going to work, and not every scene is going to play out the same way in English as it does in Japanese.
You need to have that freedom, but also you can’t take advantage of that. This show is what it is for a reason, and you don’t want to change the core meaning of it. You can change the way that you would phrase certain things perhaps, for if the point of the joke is just to make someone laugh, well then what the joke is doesn’t even matter sometimes, you know?
But you don’t want to really change the intention of the original creators. You want to honor that, and that can be difficult sometimes, because there are cultural barriers that are sometimes hard to get around.
Anime Dream: What would you say is your favorite title to have worked on? Which title have you most enjoyed working on?
Tom Wayland: Well, my favorite show that I ever worked on was called Now and Then, Here and There.
Anime Dream: That was a great show, I must agree.
Tom Wayland: Yeah, I loved that. You know, that was the thirteen-episode series Central Park Media released in 2002 or 2003 or something like that. Shows up on the Syfy channel on occasion, I’ve noticed. It’s like, just emotionally gut-wrenching but it’s so good, and the performances are so good. And the single greatest performance in any anime ever, in my opinion, is Jack Taylor, who plays Hondo, who’s the bad guy. that is my favorite thing that I’ve ever worked on just sort of single-entity.
Number two from there is the Ping Pong Club which (laughs) is the opposite end of the spectrum. I mean, it’s just bathroom humor. But it’s so irreverent and crazy. I mean, you’ll see stuff in that and you’ll just, I can’t… “did that guy just poop out a ping pong ball dressed as a turtle?” It’s a hilarious show. And again, the performances in that – the second greatest performance in any anime ever is Jimmy Zoppi as Maeno, who’s the captain. Sort of the main character. It’s an ensemble piece. He’s the one that really stands out. He’s like the Cartman of that, relating it to South Park. So, um, those two shows were spectacular.
Out of the stuff I’m working on now, I’ve gotta tell ya — I really love Pokémon because, I mean, it just keeps coming, you know, I mean there’s more and more. So, from that aspect, it’s the best gig in the industry because it keeps on going. But also, it’s fun because there’s always, there’s new characters, there’s new creatures, there’s just new stuff all the time. And that keeps it fresh and interesting. And I can work with a wide range of actors. I do a lot of voice work on the show.
It’s been a lot of fun and I’m just excited to keep moving forward because right now, we’re beginning to record season 13 and just watching things develop. I mean, you get attached to the characters on any long series. Because, trust me — I am not the demographic for Pokémon, okay? (laugh) But you know, you really, you get into it! You get attached to watching Ash progress as he does his gym battles, watching Dawn learn about being a coordinator. All these things, I can, I mean the show’s been around like I said, thirteen years. I’ve only been working on it for about two and a half to three. But in that time I’ve done three movies, a handful of specials, probably, I don’t know… 120 episodes or something. And you start getting attached to these guys! So I’m, the stuff I’m working on right now, I’m really enjoying!
Anime Dream: And on the flip side: Anime News Network’s Justin Sevakis-
Tom Wayland: (laughs)
Anime Dream: -said that there are some shows that will destroy your soul. What would you say would be your title that would just crush your soul?
Tom Wayland: Justin used to work with me at Central Park Media, so Justin and I have worked on a number of soul-crushing shows together in one aspect or another. And it all depends, because, I mean, there are shows out there that… I dunno. If you’re working on something, you’ve gotta kind of find something to latch onto. I worked on horrible shows that were so bad they were funny and fun. There was this show called Garaga that we did at Central Park Media. It’s like a stand-alone movie and it had certain Planet of the Apes aspects to it in a way, but it was like this future thing. And it was just the dub was just not good. You know, yeah, that’s partially my fault (laughs) but there’s a garbage-in-garbage-out principle there. You know what I mean? Something that is so horribly flawed, and if you’re not allowed to, like really Mystery Science Theater the thing or, more to the point, What’s New Pussycat if you’re familiar with that Woody Allen movie. You’re kind of stuck with what you have and you can only polish the turd so much, as we say in the business.
Um, probably the worst thing I ever worked on — that was painful to me — was a show called The Fencer of Minerva. And it was a five-part OVA, and it was something that was not hentai, but could have been. There was a lot of that type of material, but it wasn’t that graphic. You know what I mean? But it was so freakin’ long! Oh my god! It was, like, five episodes, and each episode was like 45 to 50 minutes, and it just never stopped, and went on and on and on! And the dialogue was horrible! I mean, augh! And this thing had some amazing actors in it, who won’t want anybody to know their names, so I’m not gonna say it, but just… it was, you know with this cast, it just goes to show you that bad dialogue and bad direction can destroy a good cast. I was not involved in producing the dub of this. This was actually dubbed a year or two before I got into the industry, but then they finally put it on DVD. And it was painful because when you produce something on DVD or like that, you have to watch it again, and again, and again. Every day. So this show was the worst thing I ever worked on. I just wanted it to be over. I just wanted it to go away, you know? (laughs) It was just so long, and that was like, I think the worst part. So yeah, I’d say that was a bad one.
Anime Dream: I do have to agree. Fencer of Minerva, I remember actually sitting there and asking “Why the hell would Central Park license this?” (laughs)
Tom Wayland: I… I don’t know. I mean, it’s hard to say why with a lot of that stuff. Because it was cheap, who knows? I mean honestly, with a show like that, you put an attractive woman on the cover, a dude holding his sword. There’s an audience for that kind of thing, and they sort of get hoodwinked to thinking “Maybe this Fencer of Minerva!,” it’ll be all sword fighting. Instead, it’s just crap!
Anime Dream: And I have just one more question: Do you have anything you’d like to say to your fans, or just anime watchers in general?
Tom Wayland: You know, a lot of the people I work with in the business have been, ah, have come out there. Toshi Yoshida, who is a producer for many years with Viz and Bandai and he’s still out there doing stuff. And Stephanie Sheh, who is a very talented actor in California, she’s been posting this on her Facebook lately, and Greg Ayres used to go to a lot of conventions and do his fansubbing panel and about the possible harm that could do. Everybody’s out there kind of campaigning, and I’m on that bandwagon. This industry is shrinking. This is my tenth anniversary, last weekend, of being in this industry. And the anime that’s in New York has disappeared to basically nothing. Just Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh. And there used to be so much more of it out there.
I’m not blaming the fansubbers solely, but certainly anything that constitutes, like, an illegal act or illegal download, be it fansubbing or downloading shows illegally, things like that, it hurts the industry. The industry that you love. So, if you want it to be around and you want it to flourish, support it. Support it the right way, not just by being a fan, but go out there and buy a DVD.
And this is something Toshi said, and I kind of dig this, so I’ve been saying it too. If every attendee at an anime convention were to buy just one DVD at that convention, it would, like, totally turn things around – especially for a lot of the smaller struggling countries, like the dearly departed Central Park Media. So, um, yeah. there’s that.
But besides that, keep watching! We enjoy the support! Pokemon has got millions of fans around the world and I love you for it, because the mortgage payments keep coming! (laughs) So, I want to keep working, and I’ve been having a great time with it, and, ah, yeah! This has been, it’s been a very unexpected ten years, but looking back, I’m really proud of the work I did, and I’m really glad to be here, and I thank the fans for that. I sincerely do. So thank you! Thanks, and you know, keep watching. Keep supporting. Go buy a disc, go buy two! (laughs)