Interview: KENN & Atsushi Abe Reflect on ‘IDOLiSH7’ Movie at Anime NYC
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Interview: KENN & Atsushi Abe Reflect on ‘IDOLiSH7’ Movie at Anime NYC

The IDOLiSH7 multimedia franchise began as a mobile rhythm and novel game released by Bandai Namco Online in August 2015. Its television anime debuted in January 2018. Following its success, a second anime season was broadcast, and subsequently won the Anime Fan Award at the Tokyo Anime Award Festival (TAAF) in 2021. The fan-voted TAAF award was reclaimed the next year by the third season, IDOLiSH7 Third Beat! The anime series garnered an international following for the seven-man group, IDOLiSH7, as well as the three other featured groups: TRiGGER, Re:vale, and ŹOOĻ.

The concert film IDOLiSH7: LIVE 4bit – BEYOND THE PERiOD was announced in January 2023. Split into two episodes or “concert days” with slightly different setlists and MC corners, the 3DCG movie by animation studio Orange premiered in Japan on May 20, 2023.

A live-screening of the movie’s “DAY 1” episode was hosted by Bandai Namco Filmworks at Anime NYC in November 2023. Voice actors KENN (voice of Tamaki Yotsuba) and Atsushi Abe (voice of Sogo Osaka) flew to New York City to attend a panel prior to the screening, and graciously signed autographs for fans at two sessions during the convention.

During the cast talk, both voice actors interacted warmly with the audience, using English words when they felt comfortable and often responding directly to the audience’s questions. When asked how they were enjoying the city, KENN said the view was incredible and that he felt like he was in a movie. Abe expressed joy in getting to visit the MoMA, Times Square, and just a small visit to Tiffanys.

Reputedly, fellow voice actor Yusuke Shirai (voice of Yamato Nikaido) was wistfully saying that he also wanted to go, repeating “how nice, how nice” (“ii na, ii na”) to KENN and Abe separately. Both cast members expressed wishes to come back with the other IDOLiSH7 voice actors.

Audience members who purchased the paid tickets were given a random clear file (either the movie’s key visual or the IDOLiSH7 group visual), two random character cards (one Idol Message Card, one Visual Card), and a NYC-exclusive can badge of King Pudding dressed as the statue of liberty. KENN said he wished that the staff could make it into a real pudding, and Abe asked which flavor it would be. KENN suggested pizza and Abe suggested hamburger, but the audience called out that it should be NY cheesecake. Both cast members agreed that cheesecake was the best suggestion.

──Can you tell us about the idol you voice? What do you think are the idols’ main appeal?

Abe: I’m in charge of the voice of Sogo Osaka, and I think the attraction is the gap. He’s very kind and gentle, but he gets quite drunk when he has alcohol, and he does extreme things, such as trying to open doors with a screwdriver, so I think he has a very interesting character.

KENN: The character I play, Yotsuba Tamaki, starts being an idol for a reason. So [in the beginning], he thinks about himself a lot, has a very narrow perspective, and sometimes causes trouble for the people around him. But as he spends time with everyone, he starts to feel a bond with them, and his desire to entertain people together with everyone becomes stronger and stronger. He’s an idol who has grown up a lot… or rather, an idol who has a lot of room for growth (laughs). Among all the idols, he’s the one who is growing at an amazing rate.

KENN: The idols, including Tamaki, have various problems, and it’s shown that it’s not just a glittering world, there are also painful parts. (Abe nods in agreement) I think that is the main appeal of this work. The idols are putting all their energy into the goal of making the audience happy, and I think that’s the idols’ main appeal.

KENN: (turns to Abe) What do you think is the idols’ main appeal?

Abe: I think it’s very attractive that this work depicts the relationship between idols and fans. It shows how idols can be influenced by the reaction of their fans because they love the idols, and how they end up doing things that cause the idols to suffer because of that. However, it also clearly shows how the support of the fans gives power to the idols. I think it’s quite rare to see a clear depiction of the relationship between the artist and the fans, so I think this is the main appeal.

──What is important to you when performing the voices of the idols?

Abe: Like I was saying earlier, the idol I’m in charge of has a big gap. No matter what he does—even if he gets angry, if he gets drunk after drinking alcohol, or if he does something a little radical—he’s fundamentally very kind, he thinks about the people around him, and he’s gentle. While acting, that’s the key point that I don’t want to lose.

KENN: As I said earlier, Tamaki Yotsuba is growing at an amazing speed. Part of his mind is gradually becoming able to convey what he’s feeling consciously, while part of him is venting his emotions instinctually. There are two extremes: sometimes he’s speaking deliberately, sometimes he’s speaking without thinking. So I’m trying to keep a good balance between them while I’m performing, valuing both his intentional and exaggerated displays of emotion together.

──Do you have a favorite scene or song from the movie? If so, could you elaborate why?

Abe: All of the songs are wonderful, but before the encore, near the end of the movie, there is a song called “TOMORROW EViDENCE.” Sogo-kun composed this song, and Tamaki-kun choreographed the dance. So in a way, it’s an IDOLiSH7 song that was made by the two members. To be able to perform that song in front of everyone, almost at the very end of the live concert, was very emotional for me. Then the idols from the other three groups join in the middle, and they finish singing the song together. I thought it’s a very lovely performance , and the scene left a strong impression on me.

KENN: Kensho Ono, who plays Riku Nanase, has said this before as well, but there is a song called “MONSTER GENERATiON” and in the anime’s story, when the group first performed this song live, there was barely anyone in the audience. At that time, although they felt frustrated, they were also happy that anyone came at all. After growing as a group, being able to perform this song once again at a big live event where so many audience members came, made me feel very happy.

KENN: Added to that, this time the live performance of this song was completely changed. Remembering that experience in the movie, and them performing the same song using a different approach in front of such a large audience, was really gratifying. There are many excellent songs, but like Kensho Ono, this scene and song in the movie left a deep impression on me, and is one of my favorites.

©BNOI/IDOLiSH7 the Movie Project

──On MyAnimeList, IDOLiSH7 is the highest ranked/scored male idol anime as voted by overseas fans.

Both: (in English) Whoa..! Thank you so much!

──It is often recommended as “the one” male idol anime you need to watch. What do you think are the charming points of the IDOLiSH7 franchise?

Abe: When it comes to idol stories, I think works often present a very glittering image. Of course, there is a sparkling side to it, but beyond that, it’s the behind-the-scenes efforts, what they’re thinking, how firm their resolve is to stand on stage and interact with the fans. I think what’s appealing about the series is that it clearly depicts how much hard work goes into their performances in front of their fans. There’s more than just the glitter.

Abe: “To everyone else, I might seem like a star, but I’m just a regular person sticking silver paper to myself the best I can to act like a star.” There is a line like this, and it really resonates. It reminds us that they are not beings above the clouds but simply human like everyone else.

KENN: (in English, with a very serious tone) Me too…

(everyone laughs)

KENN: Just kidding. There are many different types of jobs in the world, and I think that many of these jobs can be very enjoyable or very difficult. This series delves deeply into the profession of being an idol. Moreover, it’s highly entertaining, the cuteness of the characters and the mascots are perfect, and there are no missing pieces. So I think the attentiveness in this work is of the highest value, and I think that’s what makes it so appealing.

──In IDOLiSH7, many of the idols undergo significant character development. How do you ensure that their lines are delivered with the right amount of energy and impact to resonate with the fans?

Abe: The series began with the mobile game app IDOLiSH7, so the anime is a retelling of the story that I acted in the mobile game. Although it’s the same story, there are a lot of expressions that are unique to the anime, and even if the lines are the same, the nuances may be slightly different. So I am acting while discussing and adjusting various things with the animation director and the sound director.

Abe: Of course, the way I put my heart into my role hasn’t changed since the mobile game. When it comes to anime, there are many ways to express things in a different way, but I always try to not forget my original intentions and not forget how I felt when I read the script for the first time.

KENN: Yotsuba Tamaki, the character I play, is a character whose mindset has changed considerably from the beginning until now. The first thing I have to do is to understand and create Tamaki Yotsuba as a person.

KENN: Then it’s also necessary to once again destroy what has been created. (motioning with his hands as if using building blocks) Building, then breaking, building, then breaking, and over again. When I end up with the current Tamaki, I can perform while considering the subtle nuances of his heart, like “he’s saying this because he’s truly thinking that in his heart.” Moving from the game to the anime, and doing this process all over again, I felt like I was able to meet a new Tamaki.

Abe: A “scrap and build” kind of thing?

KENN: Yeah.

(Translator note: “Scrap and build” is a phrase used in Japan to mean “scrapping one to build another”.)

©BNOI/IDOLiSH7 the Movie Project

──What was your impression when you heard the new song “NiGHTFALL” performed by IDOLiSH7 at the concert film?

Abe: Of course, I had already recorded the song beforehand, so I knew what kind of song it was going to be. But I had no idea that halfway through the concert, they would appear from the audience, put on new costumes, and perform like that. It was like, “Ah, they presented it like this. It’s a song that was meant to be performed in this way.” It really surprised me.

Abe: Also, the costume was probably inspired by the night sky, so I thought that was very beautiful.

KENN: When we were recording, we did not know how it would be performed in the concert film, but I feel delighted that the video has surpassed the image I had with just the music alone. (Abe nods) This work isn’t made by one artist or a team of artists. There’s the anime team, the game team, it’s a work created with the involvement of many different people. When there’s a pleasant surprise, it’s always fun as an individual fan, and “NiGHTFALL” has become one of my favorite songs.

KENN: That’s why, even though we as performers may be actors and idols, we can also enjoy the work as an audience member.

Abe: Ah, that’s right.

KENN: It’s a very fortunate circumstance.

──Are there any memorable moments during the recording or live events?

Abe: The concert film has certain lines that were decided [beforehand], but a lot of it is ad-libbed. While watching the idols’ movements, I was thinking, “if I were the character, what would I say in a situation like this?” or “what would I want to say to all of the fans?” It was a bit different than usual recordings, it was kind of a challenging recording.

Abe: In the TV anime series, there is usually an opening and ending song. But sometimes, there is a special ending which is a surprise [for viewers], and a different song than usual plays at the end. It’s a surprise meant to enhance the feelings of the anime. When the episode’s ending is very important for both of our characters, there were times when MEZZO” got to be in charge of the special ending song. Seeing that, there’s something very emotional about it.

KENN: Very emotional. (nods)

KENN: While recording the MC portion of the movie’s live performance, I felt it was different than a typical dialogue dubbing between two people. Rather, you loudly say “Thank you!” (raises his voice, as if waving) to the audience in a more realistic way. Or, when the other characters are talking in the MC corner, you’re agreeing to what they say by saying “mhm, mhm” in a voice that doesn’t matter if it’s said into the mic or not. It was impressive how they finely adjusted the dynamics of the sound, making it louder or softer.

KENN: When it comes to the movie-related live events, sometimes the talk show portion of the event took place before watching the concert film, and sometimes the talk show was after the concert film. When I went on stage before the concert film started, the audience was happy or excited. On the other hand, if I went on stage after the concert film had ended, everyone felt moved or had a heart-warming feeling. (Abe laughs in agreement)

KENN: And so… (his tone becomes very serious) even when I would tell very funny jokes, they wouldn’t really laugh that much…

(Abe laughs deeply while KENN still has a straight face)

Abe: This guy is funny.

KENN: That’s why, (continues in a serious tone) if such a funny guy like me (Abe laughs again) can make jokes without much reaction… then it must mean the IDOLiSH7 concert film is something wonderful.

(there’s a sentimental pause in the room after the translator finishes speaking)

KENN: Look, it happened again!

(everyone laughs)

©BNOI/IDOLiSH7 the Movie Project

──What challenges would you like to take on in the future as the voice actors of IDOLiSH7?

Abe: Well, to be very honest… I want to do… a third live. (ends his sentence emphatically)

(everyone applauds)

Abe: We all performed the second live together, and since then we’ve done separate live shows for each idol unit. Next time, I really hope we can do an all-idol third live show. If that time comes, I’ll do my best. (laughs)

KENN: With all the cast members in New York…

Abe: Ah, that’s right

KENN: …at an event in front of a big audience like this, with the Statue of Liberty version of King Pudding… I want to eat it together.

(everyone laughs)

KENN: And probably, the statue of liberty version of king pudding would be… pizza-flavored (in a longing voice)

Abe: Pizza-flavored… Not cheesecake? (considering the idea from the previous day’s panel)

(everyone laughs)

KENN: That is also nice.

Interview was conducted through an interpreter and has been edited for clarity.

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