Interview: Anairis Quiñones on Diversity in Anime and Voice Acting

Anairis Quiñones interview
My Hero Academia just recently announced their third film to be released next summer. In preparation for all new content coming in 2021, including its fifth season, we interviewed Anairis Quiñones, voice of Rabbit Hero: Mirko.

Anairis has an abundance of voice roles in indie games and animation. She plays Nessa in Pokémon: Twilight Wings, Echidna in Re:Zero, and most recently, Miyuki Shiba in The Irregular at Magic High School. In this interview we talk a little bit about the upcoming film for My Hero Academia. But most importantly, we cover the much-needed conversation of representation and diversity in voice acting.

Mae Trumata: Among the roles you have played so far, which one do you personally connect with the most?

Anairis Quiñones: I connect with all of them very intimately with in different ways. I used to write a lot and voice acting kind of reminds me of writing, especially when you write characters. Because when you write characters, a little part of yourself goes into each character. And it’s very much the same with voice acting. But I think the one that felt like a huge honor is Nessa in Pokémon: Twilight Wings. It was very important to me, the community, to me as a kid. It was a really amazing role to have and I’m really blessed to have the chance to play her.

MT: How did you get into anime in the first place? How did that lead you into becoming a voice actor?

AQ: I started off just like any other kid, where you would watch Pokémon or Yu-Gi-Oh! growing up, and then kind of eventually fell into it. I don’t believe I had a big interest in voice acting until I watched Fullmetal Alchemist, the 2003 anime. I was in love with that dub. There are so many amazing characters—amazing performances! And I remember first really being intrigued with voice acting when I was watching the commentary track. Laura Bailey was talking about her process on discovering her Lust voice. How it was more nuanced than just coming up with a seductive voice. It was very interesting to me because I didn’t realize that voice acting was a thing. After that, I started pursuing it. And now, it’s my career.

MT: You work within both spheres of anime dubbing and Western voice over. Are there any cultural divides you find between the two in terms of on-screen diversity and representation?

AQ: That’s interesting. I do believe that western prelay tends to be more conscious—especially as of late—of having authentic casting. But for anime dubbing…I remember when I did audition for Nessa, the director was very conscious of making sure that the pool was filled with Black talent. The community was also very aware because of course, Nessa is a black character. But I think, in that scenario and in most scenarios, they’re not usually as determined to cast someone who ethnically matches the character. And the few times that they are, it’s usually—to my experience—very stereotypical characters. But I feel like it’s kind of improved over time as we’ve had a conversation about diversity; how important it is to be authentic in casting. But it’s definitely something that the anime sphere struggles with.

MT: How important is it to explore aspects of diversity and representation within all spectrums of voice acting?

AQ: Incredibly important. Before I joined the industry, I was very observant. I noticed that I didn’t see myself in cast list. Whenever I saw Black voice actors and cast, they often played these very stereotypical roles, these very minor roles. It’s not that they weren’t talented. They were very talented! But they were kind of being put into a box. I saw that with peers who had gone on to be professional, where they struggle to break out of that box. So, when I was pursuing it, I was kind of afraid of going professional. I was afraid of being put into that box. It wasn’t that I doubted my abilities; I had full confidence in my abilities. But I wasn’t sure if that was enough, as sad as that is to say. I was working so hard in order to prove myself. Because that was the only thing I had. Like, if I’m so good, they can’t ignore me, and they can’t put me into a box. It was important for me as an aspiring voice actor to see myself. Because then, I feel more inspired to go for it. I think every kid wants to see themselves on screen, POC and LGBTQ+ especially. They want to see themselves onscreen because it reminds them, “hey, you exist,” and “hey, you’re you and that’s okay”. I remember grabbing onto any darker-skinned character I could because I just wanted to see myself, and I didn’t see that a lot. I’m glad that in recent years, diversity is definitely more obvious. But I definitely would like to see it be more the norm, especially in terms of authenticity.

MT: We are now at the end of 2020. Many of those who were very vocal at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement in June have dwindled down in their activism. What do you have to say about why this issue is still extremely relevant and important?

AQ: I definitely predicted that it would lose its traction overtime. The unfortunate thing is that, I think diversity can be very much a trend. I’m not sure why because I feel like that should be inherent. I do say that it’s very important to acknowledge your audience. I feel like the creative space in general is lacking in diversity. There’s so many stories that could be getting told, but they’re not. I feel like it’s important to listen, and continue listening, not just when it’s trendy to do so. To make the effort to have diverse voices behind the scenes, so that you can have more interesting stories; more interesting characters. If you just have the same kind of voice over and over, the same kind of story over and over, then everyone else is just going to feel like that’s the only story that can ever get told.

MT: During this movement, there were white voice actors stepping down from their characters of color role in animation. What do you make of that?

AQ: From my perspective, it was very interesting because I didn’t quite expect that. I feel like it made the conversation more of a widespread one. Because for the longest time, the conversation of needing diversity in voice acting has been pushed under the rug. But it brought the conversation to the forefront. I personally don’t believe that at this point we necessarily need white voice actors to step down from roles that they already took up. I feel like the most important thing to do at this point is make sure that auditions end up diverse; that you are sending sides to Black actors if it’s a Black character. I think that’s the major thing that we’re mostly speaking out against. It’s that we don’t even get the opportunity. Or rather, some of us don’t.

Read more: Interview: Justin Briner And Clifford Chapin On ‘My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising’

I acknowledge that I personally have been very lucky, and I supposed in a sense tokenized. But that’s not the same for my peers. I know some peers who are still struggling in their career. I think what makes the difference is whether or not we have the opportunity; whether or not we are recognized for our talents and the unique things we bring to the table. So, in regards to white talent stepping down, it’s appreciated. I understand the message behind doing it. But I think the best thing is to pressure casting directors, clients, and such—everyone behind the scenes—to make sure that the opportunity is available to those who match the specs. And not just send them to the same fifty or so white [voice] actors for every role.

MT: How do you think this movement will affect anime localizations, especially in these voice actors playing roles of Japanese ethnicity?

AQ: I do think even now we’re noticing that there’s more POC getting opportunities. And I like to think it comes from a genuine place of wanting to listen. I believe that there will probably still be some conflicts on what is okay, and what is not okay. Definitely a lot of technicalities [of] “well this character is actually Japanese so shouldn’t you just be having Japanese people voice them if you want diversity so badly”. And that’s not necessarily the case. I believe that the anime sphere can very much still work on anyone can voice anyone. But that only works if everyone is getting the opportunity. And if there is lack of bias when casting. I also feel having POC casting directors, or voice directors, or engineers—that can make a world of difference too. Because they inherently have more weight in what they say. Voice actors can only say so much. I think anime is just a very hard thing to handle. Because in general, it is being localized. But it’s also very much dominated by white talent in terms of voice acting. So, I feel like it’s just a matter of diversifying the talent pool for all the studios.

Read more: ‘Big Mouth’, ‘The Simpsons’ And The “Animated Defence” Of Whitewashing

MT: Just last few of questions here. My Hero Academia just announced a third animated film. Would you like to see Mirko be a major player in the third film before her anime storylines take place?

AQ: Oh, I would love that. I think she has become such a popular character that it would definitely be an amazing move to include her more. Whether it be in the films or OVAs, or any other way. I would love to see her in one of the films.

MT: And All Might has Deku, Hawks has Tokoyami, Best Jeanist with Bakugou and even All for One with Shigaraki. Who do you think would benefit from being mentored by Mirko?

AQ: I hear Bakugou a lot, and I also hear Deku a lot. You know, maybe—this is a bit of a wild one—Froppy. Just because Mirko’s whole thing is that she has a lot of strength in her legs. Maybe she can help Froppy develop strength in her legs, so that she can have a very similar style of fighting? I feel like that could benefit.

MT: In the future, what kind of stories would you like to be able to tell?

AQ: Oh gosh, I’d love to be able to tell all kinds of stories. I think the major thing for me is I want to have every opportunity to tell any kind of story. But I think something that means a lot to me is being able to play Puerto Rican characters. That’s actually a very important thing to me as that’s my culture. Especially being able to portray an Afro-Latina, that’s incredibly important to me. Because I didn’t see that growing up. So like, if I get to see that, and if I get to play that—ugh, I’d love to tell stories of Afro-Latinas.

MT: And lastly, what kind of projects would you like to work on, inside and outside of voice acting?

AQ: Inside of voice acting, gosh, I never really give like specifics because I kind of just leave it up to the universe. It’s like, wherever I go is where I go. I trust what is meant for my journey will come to me. But I think just in general, I’d like to work definitely a little bit more in anime. I’d like to work more in prelay, especially video games. I feel like I haven’t had too much of a chance there. I definitely enjoy a lot of the stories in video games right now. And in terms of outside the booth, gosh—probably just my own stories. That’s something I’d thought about where later down the line, I do want a shift into working on my own things. Especially making space for other talent. That’s something I very much want to do in the future.

Interview conducted by Mae Trumata

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