Gundam SEED FREEDOM’s Rie Tanaka, Sōichiro Hoshi Share Memories at Los Angeles Premiere

Photography by Kalai Chik

This past week has been busy for the two leads of Mobile Suit Gundam Seed FREEDOM as they’ve been promoting the U.S. premiere of the movie on the West Coast. Immediately after they attended the festivities in Seattle, they joined Michael Sinterniklaas (Gundam Seed dub producer) and Stephanie Sheh (English voice of Lacus Clyne) at the Los Angeles film premiere. As attendees eagerly awaited the screening, cosplayers and fans mingled in the lobby, taking pictures with the movie banner and checking out the Gundam Seed figures. Rie Tanaka donned a lacey pink dress, emulating Lacus Clyne, while Sōichiro Hoshi opted for streetwear that included sneakers with blue and red accents reminiscent of Kira’s Freedom Gundam.

Welcoming a packed, two-story theater, the four guests treated the audience to a pre-show talk and reflected on their time working on the series. Both Hoshi and Tanaka were excited to see the L.A. crowd and commented on how impressed they were—even shocked—by the size of the crowd and how long it took them to get from the door to their seats. Although they can directly see the excitement from Japanese fans, American fans have never failed to stun them with their outpouring of support for the Gundam Seed series.

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Photography by Kalai Chik

“It’s so surreal for us because recording this series was like a fever dream. We did all 98 episodes in a few months, and it wasn’t released right away,” said Sheh. “It was really hard to gauge how production was. Although I was told the show is really popular, I had no real sense of it.” Sinterniklaas agreed with her and spoke about the contributions of Bandai to the Gundam Seed series. “Super grateful to Bandai Namco Filmworks, who have worked with us since the Sunrise days and helped to keep it all together.”

Turning back to Lacus and Kira, Hoshi and Tanaka thought back to the early days of recording the two characters. “During SEED, I felt like Kira and I had a lot in common. I remember going into the ADR booth thinking it was like an internal battle every day,” said Hoshi. Tanaka also echoed the pressure she felt while performing as Lacus. Regarding how their characters evolved over the past two decades, Hoshi felt after Kira’s struggles in SEED, he ended up like a “guest character who cameoed halfway” into DESTINY after the perspective changed to Athrun Zala and Shinn Asuka. Now that the story turns back to Kira, he hoped fans aren’t taken aback by his character in Gundam Seed FREEDOM. “Don’t kirau [hate] Kira,” he joked.

On the other hand, Tanaka mused upon Lacus’ relationship with Kira throughout the years. Since she was originally on the opposite side and Athrun’s fiancée, the first season planted the seeds of their budding romance later in the series. After their relationship bloomed and developed in DESTINY, she encouraged fans to look forward to how it further develops in FREEDOM.

Before the premiere, Hoshi and Tanaka talked to Anime News Network about their long history with the Gundam Seed franchise, how the relationship between Lacus and Kira has also shifted, and the challenges they experienced when returning for Gundam Seed FREEDOM.

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It’s been over 20 years since the original series aired. After all this time, was it difficult to reprise your characters [Kira and Lacus]?

Hoshi: It’s been 20 years since I originally played the role. But every year, there’s a chance to reconnect with Gundam Seed and Gundam Seed Destiny, saying a few lines of dialogue through various opportunities and events. I feel that both Kira and I have always been together, so it wasn’t tough for me to get back into character. The story’s timeline takes place about two years after DESTINY. The first time I had to replay Kira, I didn’t try to tap back into how I played him originally. But it was almost acting as Kira with my current self, passing on those 20 years. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a reimagination, but I tried to channel the character again, which was a fresh experience for me.

Tanaka: I had to rebuild the character for the film. In the franchise timeline, she evolved from this fluffy and cute character. I thought she wouldn’t change, but she matured into a determined character who can express herself directly to those around her. The director also told me to change her character a bit during the ADR recording sessions. When I read the screenplay and then went into recording, the director helped guide me, which shifted my impression of Lacus.

What were some memories or feelings you had the moment you found out that you would be a part of the Gundam Seed series?

Hoshi: I recall watching [Gundam] as a kid, around elementary school at the time, and I also enjoyed gunpla. By the time I became an adult, the Gundam series had greatly increased. As a voice actor, I felt I was able to get closer to the Gundam franchise, but there weren’t many opportunities at first. When I heard the news of being cast in Gundam Seed, it felt like my childhood memories and the desire to involve myself in [the franchise] had come to fruition. Of course, that was a very, very happy moment for me.

Tanaka: I also remember that I was a high school student when I first encountered Gundam, which was Gundam Wing at the time. I got into it, but there weren’t any barriers to getting into the series between boys and girls back then. I think Gundam Wing helped expand the fan base, as I remember buying a lot of merchandise myself. A few years later, I enrolled in the voiceover academy.

Initially, I auditioned for the role of Flay Allster rather than Lacus Clyne. They transitioned my role because the character needed to sing, and I was asked if I could sing. We recorded Lacus’ first song, “Shizukana Yoru ni,” before recording her voice. When we were doing that, the director of Gundam Seed came into the studio, told me what kind of character she was, and showed me Lacus’ illustrations. Since it was my first role, I remember the singing process and how I had integrated her character into the acting and musical performance. Though, I recall the pressure I felt by taking on such a big role as I was in my early 20s. I tried incredibly hard, and now here we are.

Continuing from Gundam Seed and Gundam Seed Destiny, Gundam Seed FREEDOM depicts Kira and Lacus’ deep trust and bond with each other. What are your thoughts on the bond between Kira and Lacus?

Hoshi: I think we first met while recording Gundam Seed, and over time leading into DESTINY, the bond between us as actors grew. When DESTINY came around, I felt safe—perhaps even too safe or too calm—in each other’s presence. It’s almost as if we were this old married couple. Our characters didn’t necessarily have any romantic tension, even in the performances or story. Despite that, we built some trust and rapport between us. The director helped guide us in that direction, especially with DESTINY leading into FREEDOM, there are many surprising events.

Tanaka: Initially, Lacus was supposed to marry Athrun because they were supposedly a genetically and politically good match. The match was made outside of romance, so there wasn’t much love [between them]. When Lacus first encounters Kira, she discovers that new emotion. She’s a hard character to pinpoint at the beginning, as you don’t understand what she’s thinking. For me, deep down, I think she had feelings for Kira, which becomes much more apparent in DESTINY. Kira also doesn’t necessarily have that romantic emotion. A lot of what drives Kira is the desire to protect his friends, who are Naturals. Lacus, like Kira, also wants to end the fighting, so she tries to think about how she can end this conflict sooner, whether through singing, preaching peace, or diplomacy.

At the same time, Kira is struggling in his own right over how he’s supposed to be fighting. In the end, everyone is headed towards world peace. She wants to protect those around her in her own right. That’s apparent in DESTINY leading into FREEDOM. The big surprise event Hoshi referenced earlier was how Orphee gets in their way as a newer rival. He’s very controlling, and one of his abilities is manipulating people. Even Lacus is swayed at some point, and this hurts Kira. We get to see the messiness of human relationships in FREEDOM. It comes as a surprise, and I think the audience is in for a huge journey.

You’ve said before that Lacus is one of your hardest roles. Since Lacus went from an idol singer to living in peace and now is the leader of COMPASS, how did you adjust your acting to fit the changes in her character?

Tanaka: There’s a slight difference in Lacus between SEED and DESTINY, but in FREEDOM she has more pressure to protect different people as the president of COMPASS. On top of that, she and Kira live together, but the amount of time they spend together and communicate with each other has lessened significantly. Two years have passed, and Lacus has matured even more into an adult, which is reflected in her design and animation. I wondered how I should handle that in terms of acting, and at times, I was even at a loss as to how to portray her growth and their relationship. In FREEDOM, new and different rivals and enemies exist. She even gets captured and locked up, but rather than just being a trapped princess, she has become someone different from the Lacus you’ve seen up until now. She’s able to navigate and influence things despite being a prisoner of sorts, and I made significant adjustments to my acting for her.

Kira has experienced many hardships and anguish through battle. What were some difficulties and challenges you faced voicing Kira?

Hoshi: Since SEED, Kira has struggled with many things that he doesn’t understand, and I feel linked to that. I was with Kira week after week, fighting and overcoming unknown challenges. Once DESTINY comes around, Kira has grown and matured, now with unwavering determination. I felt as if he’d come to a place where he was safe and solid. But with FREEDOM, a part of Kira hasn’t fully grown, which you could say is the human quality of having weaknesses. I realized that Kira is still not as mature as I thought. In that sense, I reconsidered both the Kira in the movie and the Kira that I had built up in myself. I felt that part was the most challenging part about reconstructing the character you see in FREEDOM.

What are your impressions of overseas fans? Were you surprised at how popular Gundam Seed is overseas?

Tanaka: I had the opportunity to attend an event in Chicago previously, and that’s where I saw Gundam Seed‘s popularity [in the United States]. Fans cosplayed as Lacus, Kira, and Meer, which surprised me. Being able to go to Seattle, some fans and cosplayers told us how much they love Gundam Seed. So much so that they went as far as studying Japanese so that they could watch the show in the original language without subtitles. To me, it was a very touching, moving moment. I was so glad that I took on the role and played Lacus.

Hoshi: I had no idea how popular Gundam Seed is, to be quite frank. I knew of the Gundam series and franchise since its beginnings, so I was sure there was a certain amount of popularity worldwide. But none of that news comes back to me in Japan. Through this trip, I had the opportunity to travel to Seattle, where I got the chance to chat with some fans during the autograph sessions and panel talks. To see that response from the fans directly was the first time I could see the energy and the anticipation from those who’ve been fans since the original 2002 Gundam Seed TV series. Fans waited for a long time and have been on the edge of their seats for a continuation of the story. It showed how the U.S. fans are a lot like the Japanese fans who have been anticipating the next iteration of Gundam Seed.

In their closing remarks, Hoshi—possibly speaking on behalf of Kira— threw a curveball and told the audience to keep an eye out for Lacus. Tanaka had to interrupt him and tell him not to say Orphee’s name, but he jokingly insisted to protect her from a certain “character.” As a special treat for all those in attendance, Tanaka and Sheh both rose to recite Lacus’ famous line: “You don’t love someone only because you need them. You need them because you love them.”