This is a series where we delve into some of NESMITH’s favorite manga, anime, and games and explore otaku culture from his perspective. This time we take a look at Jujutsu Kaisen, written by Gege Akutani and currently serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump. We sat down with Junya Enoki, the voice actor for Yuuji Itadori, and spoke in-depth about what exactly makes this show so appealing to both kids and adults alike, and what similarities voice actors and artists share.
NESMITH: I’m so glad I get to meet you.
Junya Enoki: The pleasure is all mine. What made you start reading Jujutsu Kaisen?
NESMITH: The Shonen Jump that was around when I was still a kid had Dragon Ball, Slam Dunk, Yu-Yu Hakusho, and other manga that followed a typical plotline about fighting stronger and stronger enemies, but nowadays I feel like there is more manga that can be enjoyed by adults as well. Chief among them is Jujutsu Kaisen, which revolves around the concept of curses. I think that makes it very thought-provoking. On top of that, it’s a manga that requires the reader to unravel the meaning behind the character’s words. Reading the dialogue over and over and realizing the hints that were sprinkled in, the meanings behind what the characters were saying. That sense of satisfaction is immense.
Junya Enoki: I see that. Even I can sense just how difficult the words are when I read the script. There are plenty of times where, even as I’m reading the script, I’ll think to myself ‘why is he saying this?’ Looking at it like that I think it’s definitely a manga that adults can also enjoy.
NESMITH: I wholeheartedly agree.
Junya Enoki: Like you were saying earlier, I think in recent years there’s been an increase in psychological manga in Shonen Jump. However, even if they aren’t 100% action-oriented, they still utilize that when it’s necessary. I think that’s remarkable. By the way, who’s your favorite character?
NESMITH: I’m a fan of your character, Yuuji Itadori. He’s a very human character, not unlike Hanamichi Sakuragi from Slam Dunk.
Junya Enoki: He’s straightforward, isn’t he?
NESMITH: He’s straightforward, but when he decides on something he sticks to it and seeing him live his life the way he chooses to is something I aspire to be able to do. Personally, there are plenty of times where I can’t decide what I want to do or how I want to live, and I think people like him that have a solid core are able to really show their strength in those situations.
Junya Enoki: I see. I think Yuuji is a protagonist that at first glance seems pretty typical, but actually is quite different. I would’ve figured you’d like a character more like Fushiguro, one that seems straightforward but actually has quite a few secrets.
NESMITH: Some of the mystery that surrounds Fushigoro is definitely part of his charm. However, I feel like Yuuji has only shown a fraction of his true strength, and seeing what lies ahead is something I’m really looking forward to.
Junya Enoki: I see.
NESMITH: Fushigoro seems like he’s fairly capable, but he’s actually pretty clumsy. Even though he can rely on his friends to support him, he chooses not to out of a sense of pride and does his best to be strong and stoic. There’s a sense of weakness there. While I love how human that makes him, I still personally prefer strong characters like Yuuji.
Junya Enoki: Wow, you’re really been keeping up! You’ve got their character traits down pat!
NESMITH: There still plenty that I don’t know (laughs). By the way, have you always read Shonen manga?
Junya Enoki: Yeah, I have. As a kid, I’d go out and buy Shonen Jump every week.
NESMITH: Which manga did you enjoy?
Junya Enoki: I’m 32 this year, so the ones that I read while they were being serialized were I’s, Rurouni Kenshin, MAJOR, and Hell Teacher Nube.
NESMITH: I feel like there’s a lot of people from your generation that continue to read Jump to this day. I feel like it’s those adults that find Jujutsu Kaisen interesting. There have been other manga that deal with the theme of curses, most notably Bleach and Yu-Yu Hakusho, but I feel like those seemed to still follow a fairly regular storyline. However, I feel like the adults that found the twist ending of Yu-Yu Hakusho to be interesting are the same adults that are currently enjoying Jujutsu Kaisen, and are the reason why there are different discussion sites and story analysis pages on the internet.
Junya Enoki: I think that’s exactly the case! I think because Jujutsu Kaisen can be subtle about how it tells its story, it leaves space for people to get together and have fun discussions about their own interpretations. More recently it feels like everyone, regardless of age or gender, has started reading Shonen Jump. Demon Slayer was super popular with girls. I feel that the barrier to entry is a lot lower than it used to be.
NESMITH: Yeah, I agree. I think how the art looks, and the actual storylines in recent years have made Shonen Jump more accessible. That’s why I’m actually pretty curious about how young kids are interpreting the story of Jujutsu Kaisen.
Junya Enoki: Maybe it’s the easy-to-understand parts, like how catchy the opening theme is.
NESMITH: Yeah, maybe that’s the case!
Junya Enoki: By the way, do you have any interest in doing voice work?
NESMITH: I’m super interested!
Junya Enoki: I see! Do you have any experience?
NESMITH: I’ve never been a voice actor, no. I’ve done some narration before, but it’s always been me playing myself (laughs)
Junya Enoki: Playing yourself?! That’s new.
NESMITH: For voice actors, they often change how they speak and what voice they use depending on the role they’re playing. When it comes to shows such as this one that is very combat-heavy, the way that voice actors change how they speak during fight scenes really fascinates me. Being able to play a role, and then also to put my own personality and flavor into it, is something that really interests me.
Junya Enoki: If that’s the case, I’d love it if you guest-star on Jujutsu Kaisen! (laughs)
NESMITH: Wait, seriously? (laughs)
Junya Enoki: I’d like it if you could. You have a nice deep voice, and singers tend to make for good voice actors.
NESMITH: There’s quite a number of people from LDH that also do voice work.
Junya Enoki: I’m sure there’s a connection somewhere. I think that people who both sing and dance have this connection between their muscle memory and their voice, like they tap into something innate.
NESMITH: Yeah, I can see that. For me and my group mates, we tend to look at ourselves as both singers and performers, and for some songs, it’s more performance, whereas others are a mix of both. We have to train our core so that our voice doesn’t change even when dancing, so I guess there’s more of a connection between the body and the voice than perhaps someone that only does one or the other.
Junya Enoki: That’s interesting. I think you have a very soft speaking voice, so even if you were to push yourself vocally, it wouldn’t strain your neck very much.
NESMITH: That makes me so happy I could chug a lemon sour right here! (laughs)
Junya Enoki: (laughs) As an artist I’m not sure if this sounds like a compliment, but having a soft voice makes for better vocal performances when it comes to voice acting. I feel like you’d do a great job, I’d love to see you try your hand at it sometime.
NESMITH: Thank you so much. I watch anime on TV, but it’s always interested me to see what it’s like to speak the roles as they are happening in front of me.
Junya Enoki: It’s something you have to experience to know, but lip-syncing isn’t as hard as you would think. There’s actually a lot of time spent just speaking normally, so I don’t think it’s that hard of a challenge. I’d love to see you give it a shot sometime.
NESMITH: I’d love to! Just hearing you say that makes me so happy. By the way, did you have any difficulties figuring out what kind of voice you were going to use when voicing Yuuji? Or was that something that the director already had a vision for?
Junya Enoki: For the most part I tend to go along with what the director is thinking, and I don’t tend to think about what pitch I should use. I try to put myself into the shoes of the character as if I were to play them in a live-action adaptation, and I make sure to keep those feelings front and center.
NESMITH: So rather than creating a voice for the character, you put yourself into the mindset of said character.
Junya Enoki: Exactly. Sometimes I’ll think of what I would say in response to a certain line, but when I look at the script, there’s something completely different written. So I take a step back and think ‘what kind of headspace is my character supposed to be in right now?’ That’s why it tends to feel like I’m just being myself when I play these roles.
NESMITH: That’s impressive! You tend to put a lot of importance into delivering your lines naturally.
Junya Enoki: Yes. I try to make it as though I’m speaking because I want to speak. I tend to struggle with that, but I don’t want to play a role that isn’t partially myself.
NESMITH: What kind of person did you consider Yuuji to be?
Junya Enoki: He’s straightforward, but he’s also really smart and is able to analyze the situation in a battle quite accurately. So he wasn’t just some idiot to me (laughs). I try to play my role as him as if I was him, so I don’t think too deeply about him as a character. How do you put your own emotions into your music?
NESMITH: I think it’s similar to how you approach voice acting. I try to visualize the world and the environment that’s being portrayed in the song and use that visualization to sing from my heart.
Junya Enoki: So I guess that makes you a visual person.
NESMITH: Yes. Depending on the song there are different themes, but at the end of the day the voice is where emotions are most easily expressed, so I try to sing while visualizing so i can be more emotional.
Junya Enoki: That’s similar to voice actors. The important part is not faking git.
NESMITH: I agree. Placing yourself in that world makes it easier to express what I’m feeling.
Junya Enoki: Have you ever come across a song so emotional it makes you want to cry?
NESMITH: I have.
Junya Enoki: What do you do in that situation? Do you cry, or do you hold it in?
NESMITH: I’m not really sure…..(laughs)
Junya Enoki: I was curious because even if you sing an emotional song, I rarely, if ever see you and your groupmates cry, so I was wondering if that was intentional.
NESMITH: There are definitely times where I can’t hold it in and I let it out, but for me personally, if I start crying in front of a fan that’s really resonating with the song on an emotional level, I feel like my tears are forced. So I do my best to sing the song until the very end without crying, like a storyteller reading the story until the very end.
Junya Enoki: I see!
NESMITH: I feel like the most amazing thing is to have someone be moved to tears over a story that you’re telling.
Junya Enoki: I totally agree. I feel like if I get emotional and cry during a moving scene, it might draw attention away from what the audience is imagining.
NESMITH: I can see that. The first time I did a public performance I had some fans tell me they were moved, but I also heard some people say that I was so wrapped up in my own emotions that I wasn’t able to make them feel anything. That was definitely a learning experience for me.
Junya Enoki: That’s really interesting.
NESMITH: But if I base my performance off of everyone’s opinions, then I’ll lose my sense of self while performing, so I do my best to be myself while also keeping in mind how the audience is going to receive it.
Junya Enoki: That was the thing I wanted to ask you the most today.
NESMITH: Ah, gotcha.
Junya Enoki: Even if you get emotional, the only one that feels it is you, so it’s hard to tell if it’s the right move. This was eye-opening.
NESMITH: Are there scenes where characters cry during recording?
Junya Enoki: Yeah, there are, but not a lot of people actually cry. For me personally, it’s not so much I won’t cry so much as it is I can’t cry. It’s not really an environment where I can get emotional enough to cry. I have to keep in mind when they change mics and also make sure the dialogue matches up with the visuals, so I don’t really have the space to get emotional. If possible, I’d like to cry at least once, but it’s not that easy.
NESMITH: Are you the type to thoroughly read your script before recording?
Junya Enoki: Yeah, that’s me. I do my best to put meaning behind every word. I think about what every word, every breath means and what that signifies for my character at that moment, so when I go into the booth I don’t have to think so much about what I’m saying.
NESMITH: There were a surprising amount of similarities between voice actors and singers, this was really fun.
Junya Enoki: I was able to ask you a lot of questions, so I also had a good time. Also, I’d seriously like it if you could try doing some voice work! I love when people branch out from what they’re normally good at. Some people tend not to like when famous people try their hand at voice acting, but I’ve got no qualms about it at all. So I’d love it if you could give it a go!
NESMITH: I’m ready whenever! (Laughs)