Source: Comic Natalie (Nov 12, 2018)
Interview by Haruka Yanagawa
Photos by Tatsuya Irie
Comic Natalie has prepared an exclusive three-part feature to commemorate the theatrical release of Zoku Owarimonogatari, the latest entry in the Monogatari anime series based on NISIOISIN’s novels.
In this second part, Eri Kitamura and Yuka Iguchi—who voice Karen Araragi and Tsukihi Araragi, respectively—are here to reminisce about the Monogatari anime’s nine-year run. From the toothbrush scene that awakened a new fetish in countless viewers to the music that’s adorned the series, the Fire Sisters have a veritable cornucopia of memories to share.
2009 – Bakemonogatari
The Fire Sisters’ First Trial
Today, we’ll have you two look back on the Monogatari series thus far. Without further ado, let’s dive right into 2009’s Bakemonogatari. The first entry in the series introduced our protagonist, Koyomi Araragi, as well as our heroines, starting with Hitagi Senjogahara. Although Karen and Tsukihi’s only role in the main story was to wake their brother up, they narrated the weekly next-episode previews with gusto.
Eri Kitamura: I knew from the beginning that this would be an extremely challenging series. (Hiroshi) Kamiya-san, who plays Koyomi, is such a beast at reading lines—I bet he could swim 25 meters on a single breath. Also, the scripts for those next-episode previews we Fire Sisters hosted were peak NISIOISIN. [laughs]
Yuka Iguchi: They felt like intense vocal exercises.
Kitamura: Even though I still remember them, I don’t think I could ever recite them again. [laughs] Thank goodness I was paired with Yukachi (Yuka Iguchi). I remember she supported me by matching my pace, guiding me, and showing me the ropes. That’s why to this day, I’m grateful toward Yukachi and the staff, and bitter toward NISIOISIN. [laughs]
Those dialogue-heavy previews must have been a struggle.
Kitamura: But after overcoming them, we were perfectly in sync for the rest of our appearances together. In a sense, they were the first trial on our quest to become smarter, craftier Fire Sisters.
Iguchi: Through the next-episode previews, we established our characters and affirmed their role in the story in preparation for Karen Bee and Tsukihi Phoenix.
Bakemonogatari exploded in popularity shortly after its premiere. Were you aware that was happening?
Iguchi: A lot of people told me they were watching it, I heard the theme songs playing everywhere, and I saw billboards promoting it… But I didn’t really pay attention how popular it was.
Kitamura: Same. We were just doing our jobs, though we felt blessed to be part of something that resonated with so many people in so many different ways. It’s no surprise that the series made such an impact, given how NISIOISIN-sensei’s idiosyncrasies were properly adapted into the show by the directors and animation staff. Afterwards, we started to get more job offers from folks who associated me with Karen-chan and Yuka Iguchi with Tsukihi-chan.
Iguchi: Yeah, they essentially became our signature roles as voice actors.
2012 – Nisemonogatari, Nekomonogatari Black
The Toothbrush Episode that Enlightened the Sound Director
Next came Nisemonogatari, in which Karen and Tsukihi became main characters at the forefront of the plot. Do you remember when that anime adaptation was first announced?
Iguchi: Wasn’t the Nisemonogatari anime announced at a Nicofarre event?
Kitamura: Yup. The one where each cast member had to give a speech, right? The two of us kept chattering amongst ourselves while gauging the fans’ reactions. [laughs]
(TN: Nicofarre is an event space operated by video-sharing service Niconico. Adaptations of both Nisemonogatari and Kizumonogatari were announced there on September 15, 2011.)
Iguchi: Before our scheduled appearance in the second half, we were backstage watching the livestream on our phones and giggling, “Is it time yet? Is it time yet?” [laughs]
Kitamura: Or “What’d they say? What’d they say?” Like a pair of real sisters.
Iguchi: It felt like the actual Fire Sisters had come to play. Of course, we were also nervous about rejoining the series after our castmates had set the bar so high with Bakemonogatari, since it fell on us to keep the momentum going.
Kitamura: Nevertheless, we were glad to be back.
Iguchi: In hindsight, it’s nice that our story arcs were adapted in 2012 instead of immediately after Bakemonogatari ended. The me from 2009 would’ve been in over her head, since I gained more acting experience and deepened my relationship with Eri-chan during the break.
Now, we can’t talk about Nisemonogatari without mentioning the toothbrush showdown between Koyomi and Karen in episode 8. That particular sequence remains a hot topic of discussion due to the unusual expressions Karen made while having her teeth brushed.
Kitamura: Indeed. It was hard to convey the subtleties of the toothbrush scene in a way that would make it come across as more than just fanservice to the audience. As always, NISIOISIN-sensei sprinkled hints about the different ways that situation could be interpreted throughout the text. By the way, I actually went out to buy a toothbrush that day.
Iguchi: On the sound director’s orders, right?
Kitamura: Yup. I was about to say my lines with a pen in my mouth, but then the sound director was like, “It’s a toothbrush, though.” [laughs] After we recorded that scene, I caught him saying, “Wow, dental hygiene is pretty neat.” [laughs]
Iguchi: He was enlightened. [laughs]
Kitamura: That scene really opened his eyes.
Iguchi: At point-blank range, too.
Kitamura: I seem to recall our dignified sound director uttering the words, “Thank you so much, NISIOISIN-sensei!” [laughs] My colleagues at other studios also told me, “The new episode was so eye-opening that I almost changed the channel.” [laughs] I felt like I had a bird’s-eye view of the whole situation, because I received a ton of feedback on this series while being someone who represents Karen-chan both on and off screen.
Iguchi: Sounds like an out-of-body experience.
Kitamura: Exactly. Didn’t you watch me record the toothbrush scene from behind?
Iguchi: Sure did. [laughs] I kept telling myself, “Calm down, it’s a totally innocent scene!” [laughs]
Kitamura: Episode 8 got everyone excited in more ways than one.
Of course, we didn’t just come to discuss the toothbrush scene. In the Karen Bee arc (Nisemonogatari episodes 1 to 7), Karen-chan was afflicted by an apparition known as the “Flame-Wreathe Bee,” then had her personal brand of justice attacked by the conman Deishu Kaiki.
Kitamura: Karen Bee did a great job of unveiling Karen-chan’s true self—an immature middle schooler with a weak sense of justice. Also, Shinichiro Miki’s portrayal of Deishu Kaiki was truly awe-inspiring. As cruel and despicable as Kaiki is, I believe that him exposing the fragility of Karen-chan’s justice was necessary for her growth. Our scenes together were an absolute joy to record. Next up, Tsukihi Phoenix. [glances at Iguchi]
Iguchi: Whoa, spoken like a true interviewer. [laughs]
That was spot on. [laughs] After Karen Bee, it was time for Tsukihi to shine in Tsukihi Phoenix.
Kitamura: The host not being aware of her apparition was a twist on the usual formula.
Iguchi: Despite knowing that her brother’s been dealing with a set of struggles, she’s unaware of the details. While Tsukihi may seem level-headed, Tsukihi Phoenix revealed that she’s surprisingly ditsy and must be protected. Her aggressive outbursts also started around this arc. [laughs] I thought she was a dependable little sister at first, but Nisemonogatari taught me that she’s kind of an oddball.
Tuning Our Voices with “I’m Karen” and “I’m Tsukihi”
The opening themes for Karen Bee and Tsukihi Phoenix doubled as character songs for Karen and Tsukihi.
Kitamura: Using characters songs as opening themes is one of the Monogatari series’ quirks, after all. But I only put the finishing touches on “marshmallow justice” after meg rock had sung the sample, so I can’t really claim it as my own. (TN: Megumi “meg rock” Hinata is the lyricist of every Monogatari opening to date.)
Iguchi: Nonsense, dear. Don’t be so tough on yourself.
Kitamura: For the phrase “Kesa me wo sametara, wasurechatta” (As soon as I woke up this morning, I’d forgotten all about it) in the first verse, I was asked to “give it the nuance of a line said by Karen-chan, without changing the pitch.” I replied, “That’s impossible!!” [laughs] Still, I was determined to make it sound like Karen-chan was the one singing those lyrics.
Iguchi: Those who had only watched Bakemonogatari weren’t familiar with the Fire Sisters yet, so I thought it’d be nice if my song could help them understand Tsukihi’s character. Since I wasn’t sure how exactly to sing in her voice, I just repeated the line “Morning, Big Brother! If you don’t get up, you’re gonna be late!” to get into character.
Kitamura: I did something similar! I chanted “I’m Karen!” over and over before recording.
Iguchi: That’s how we tune our voices, I guess. [laughs]
Kitamura: I’d shout “Together, we’re the Fire Sisters!” even when my sister wasn’t there.
Iguchi: The animation for “Platinum Disco” turned out to be super cute. I was delighted to see so many versions of Tsukihi-chan.
Let’s move on to Nekomonogatari Black, which broke with tradition and premiered as a TV special on December 31, 2012—New Year’s Eve. Kamiya-san mentioned that this arc was especially memorable because it started the trend of Monogatari content being delivered to fans in new forms.
Iguchi: Although it makes no difference to us whether we’re acting in a TV special or a feature film, I think Monogatari fans are also happy that new content is being made at all. More than anything, I’m impressed by how the staff keep finding unique ways to distribute new episodes, like all at once on TV or through a mobile app. Who comes up with this stuff? [scans the staff in the room]
I’m sure some amazing person out there is hard at work. [laughs]
2013 – Monogatari Series: Second Season
Nadeko and Tsukihi are Besties!
Following the TV special, Second Season kicked off in 2013.
Kitamura: I’m obsessed with Nadeko Medusa.
Nadeko Medusa featured a scene in which Tsukihi-chan asks Nadeko why she likes Koyomi.
Kitamura: They’re besties, yeah?
Iguchi: They sure are. [laughs] Once upon a time, she used to protect Nadeko-chan from bullies…
Kitamura: It was heartwarming to see Nadeko get the character development she deserved.
Tsukihi-chan is quite the little detective, isn’t she.
Iguchi: She’s just pushy. But I feel like she gets roped into sticky situations whenever she’s with Karen-chan.
Kitamura: Koyomi and Nadeko probably think she’s nosy.
Iguchi: She hates secrets, after all. [laughs]
Kitamura: That, too, is justice.
Iguchi: On the other hand, Karen-chan is so easy to read that there’s no need to analyze her.
I suppose you’re right. Now I can clearly see the difference between Karen-chan and Tsukihi-chan—out of all the heroines, Karen-chan has the fewest ulterior motives.
Iguchi: She has none.
Kitamura: She’s very straightforward. [laughs]
Iguchi: Frighteningly so.
She’s more realistic and down-to-earth compared to the other heroines.
Kitamura: That’s not true—she REALLY loves her older brother.
2014 – Tsukimonogatari
Fleshing Out Koyomi’s Relationship with Every Heroine
In 2014’s Tsukimonogatari, Yotsugi Ononoki became the newest member of the main cast.
Kitamura: Her “I said, with a posed look” was unforgettable.
Iguchi: I was wondering who would play her, and Hayamin (Saori Hayami) was a perfect fit. We’re lucky we joined the Monogatari series early on. [laughs]
Kitamura: So lucky. [laughs] These new characters have gotten more and more creative.
Iguchi: Though we didn’t get much screen time in Yotsugi Doll, Kamiya-san—who practiced his lines even during breaks—and Hayamin—who reviewed her scripts in silence—were laser-focused. Meanwhile, we just briefly stopped by the studio to lighten the mood… [laughs]
Kitamura: We were stuck in a room of perfectionists. [laughs] It honestly felt like we were in some sort of workshop.
Iguchi: But we didn’t let that bring us down. [laughs]
As more heroines joined the cast, did thoughts like “They’re gonna steal our big brother away!” or “We want Karen and Tsukihi to show up more!” ever cross your mind?
Kitamura: Not even once. This series has fleshed out Koyomi’s relationship with every single heroine without resorting to multiple endings. So rather than be shocked by all the surprises left in NISIOISIN’s world, I’ve learned to embrace them with open arms!
I see. Well, there was a moment on par with the toothbrush scene in Yotsugi Doll—Koyomi and Tsukihi’s shower scene.
Iguchi: Ah, Metropolitan Ordinance. [laughs]
Yes, Metropolitan Ordinance. [laughs] It was rather suggestive for a brother and sister to bathe together.
Kitamura: That was too much for me to handle.
Iguchi: The heart-throbbing Metropolitan Ordinance might’ve made some viewers uncomfortable [laughs], but that certainly wasn’t the characters’ intention. Personally, I wasn’t bothered by it.
2015 – Owarimonogatari
2016 – Koyomimonogatari, Kizumonogatari
Kana Hanazawa’s Voice is Absolute Justice
2015’s Owarimonogatari, which starred Ogi Oshino and Sodachi Oikura, showed Koyomi’s high school life drawing to a close. Then in 2016, the Koyomimonogatari shorts were released on a mobile app and the Kizumonogatari films premiered in theaters.
Kitamura: I was pretty nervous about the long banter scene between Koyomi and Karen in Koyomimonogatari, since I had to act more subdued than usual and Yukachi wasn’t there. [laughs] But I was ready to go after saying “I’m Karen” once. As for Kizumonogatari, I learned a lot from the cast’s groundbreaking performances. Including how awesome Maaya Sakamoto (the voice of Kissshot) is…
Iguchi: She’s incredible.
Kitamura: She did justice to NISIOISIN-sensei’s writing with incredible grace.
Iguchi: I was utterly captivated.
That same year, the Utamonogatari character song compilation album was released and reached first place on Oricon’s weekly albums chart. Among all the songs in the series, which is your all-time favorite?
Iguchi: My very own “Platinum Disco,” of course.
Kitamura: Nadeko’s, Nadeko’s, Nadeko’s.
Kitamura: Mine is Nadeko’s “Renai Circulation,” because I love Kana Hanazawa. [laughs] Her character may be the complete opposite of mine, but her song is both catchy and representative of the Monogatari series.
Iguchi: The first time everyone heard it, we all collapsed and screamed, “S-S-S-So cuuute!!” [laughs]
Kitamura: Kana Hanazawa’s voice is absolute justice. I like “Platinum Disco” too, though!
Iguchi: To be fair, every song is great. I mean, they all hit first place on Oricon!
Finally, in 2017, Koyomi graduated from high school in the last arc of Owarimonogatari, marking a conclusion of sorts to his story.
Kitamura: Didn’t NISIOISIN-sensei try to end the series at that point?
Iguchi: He said, “I tried to end it there but I failed.” [laughs] Followed by, “They wouldn’t let me do it.”
Kitamura: At the wrap-up party, he told us, “I’ll be writing until I die.” Talk about pressure. [laughs]
Iguchi: During that temporary last arc, the Fire Sisters disbanded because they knew they wouldn’t be high schoolers forever and that they had to move on. How very on-brand for Monogatari.
Was there a mood of finality in the recording studio?
Iguchi: Not exactly.
Kitamura: Sensei was planning to end the series, but we were like, “Hold up, a lot of us here are counting on that not to happen.” [laughs] Every year during Tanabata, the characters, cast, and fans of Monogatari write wishes on strips of paper and tie them on bamboo displays in Akihabara. And each time, without fail, the production staff receives a ton of heartfelt messages asking for more novels to be animated. So we couldn’t help but think, “Sensei, if you have the power to keep writing, then keep writing!” [laughs]
(TN: Tanabata is an annual star festival held on July 7th, which happens to be Hitagi’s birthday.)
2018 – Zoku Owarimonogatari
If the Full Monogatari Cast Assembled
And with that, we’ve basically covered every existing entry in the series. In less than a year, the Monogatari anime will have been around for an entire decade. Has it been difficult to play the same characters for this long?
Iguchi: No, not anymore.
Kitamura: Recording sessions were a little lonely at times, but by the second cour of Owarimonogatari, nothing could faze me.
Have these roles already become second nature to you two?
Kitamura: It’s more like I’ve had plenty of opportunities to reprise my role, like for the Monogatari Series Puc Puc app and other collaboration projects.
Iguchi: If I were to audition for Tsukihi at my current age, I don’t think I’d get the part. The fact that I’m still allowed to play her is nothing short of a miracle.
You might be playing her for another decade at this rate. On that note, what has been the most memorable part of this journey?
Iguchi: Probably the Nicofarre event I mentioned earlier. That was the first and only time the full main cast had ever been gathered under one roof. Seeing everyone’s faces at the panel gave me chills and made me think, “I can’t believe I get to work with these veterans.” The cast has grown even bigger since then, so if all of our current members assembled, we could knock the fans off their feet. I know I’d have trouble standing still. Which reminds me, I screamed at the Nicofarre event when Tsubasa showed up in the Nisemonogatari teaser with a bob cut, because (Yui) Horie-san had braided her hair to match her character. [laughs]
Kitamura: Mine is more recent—singing the theme song for the Monogatari Series Puc Puc app with every past heroine.
Iguchi: We finally sang together. About our feelings for Koyomi, no less.
Kitamura: Yup, we all directed our emotions toward the same guy. Although we recorded our parts individually, it was cool to hear our characters’ distinct voices blend together. Working on that song felt like its own reward.
Last question: What sort of role do the Fire Sisters play in the upcoming Zoku Owarimonogatari anime?
Kitamura: An interesting one. It’s hard to explain without spoiling the plot…
Iguchi: Super hard! Let’s just say you’ll be able to enjoy the Fire Sisters from a whole new perspective. While Zoku Owarimonogatari will entertain even newcomers to the series, it’s really more of a special bonus dedicated to longtime fans.
Kitamura: I imagine you’ll freak out during certain scenes. Get hyped.
Iguchi: It’s definitely worth seeing in theaters. As the title suggests, it offers some closure for the series, so I hope you wholeheartedly enjoy it until the very end.
Born on August 16 in Tokyo. A voice actress and singer. Notable roles include Sayaka Miki (Puella Magi Madoka Magica), Miki “Cure Berry” Aono (Fresh PreCure!), Bimajo (Time Bokan 24), Sonoa Mitsui (Love To-LIE-Angle), and Hotai (Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san).
Born on July 11, 1988. Made her debut as a voice actress in 2003, as Akari Usada in Di Gi Charat Nyo. Realized her dream of becoming a solo recording artist in 2013. Notable roles include Index (A Certain Magical Index), Aoi Yukimura (Encouragement of Climb), Hinata Miyake (A Place Further than the Universe), and Cow Girl (Goblin Slayer).