Photo courtesy of David Wald.

During the first ever Yaoi Expo in Burbank, I had the chance to sit down and talk with one of the guests of honor David Wald. He currently is a voice actor for several anime series including “My Hero Academia” (Snipe, Tetsutetsu Tetsutetsu) and “Golden Kamuy” (Tsurumi) while also working as an ADR (automated dialogue replacement) director and writer.

So I was doing some reading on your online bio, and you started in the anime industry in 2005 or 2006?

David Wald: “I don’t remember specifically but it was “Shadow Skill.” It was my first gig ever and I think we may have recorded that in late ‘04 and maybe it came out in ‘05.”

You’ve already hit then 15 years in the industry. Did you ever expect to work this long in anime?

DW: “No, I had no idea what I was getting into. I knew anime was a thing. I knew that it was happening in Houston among other places. But no, I had no idea what I was in for. No clue. I wasn’t familiar.
When I grew up, all I knew was ‘Speed Racer’ and ‘Battle of the Planets’ on Saturday mornings. That was all I have seen of anime. Later in my years, I saw a few more titles and started to get a scene of what anime had to offer beyond ‘Speed Racer’ and ‘Battle of the Planets’, which wasn’t even the name of it. It was ‘Gatchaman’ for God’s sake. What’s interesting is that it was sorta like theaters. I didn’t go into theater as an audience member. I didn’t see a lot of theater before I started doing theater. It was kinda the same thing for anime.I learned from participating in it rather from watching it.”

Just recently, I’ve noticed you’ve taken a shift in career in anime, moving beyond the microphone and helping develop the dub script. What led to that decision?

DW: “It wasn’t my driving force but it certainly does help you if you’re working in an industry to diversify within. I had seen myself as a writer. I’ve been writing on my own for a long time. I really enjoyed adaptive writer before I ever did it for anime but never done it professionally. I always fancied myself a writer in the making. But I never wanted to direct. Nothing. I didn’t want to direct anything. I didn’t direct scenes in high school, plays in college, traffic. Nothing. I never directed anything.

It was the ADR director at Sentai Filmworks at the time who came at me with this film “Aura: Koga Maryuin’s Last War”. She basically convinced me to direct it despite the fact that I wanted nothing to do with it. But she said that other directors I’ve worked with had reported back to her that they felt I had all the things that I needed to have to become to a successful director unbeknownst to me. I ended up directed that title and she just created a monster because I never saw myself as a big picture guy.

There’s a huge difference between being an actor in a project and being a director in a project. One takes a microscopic view. Being an actor, you really are only paying attention to one character’s journey and to be good at it you need to take a very detailed view. I always felt that’s where I functioned best in the microscopic view of the small details. So I never saw myself being the guy who weaves the tapestry. But then once it happened, I was like ‘This was awesome.’ And I still love just acting, just going in the booth, going into the booth and doing my thing.

Being a director to me, it’s like being a band leader. If you’re a trumpet player in the band, the trumpet line is yours. But if you’re the band leader, the trumpet line’s the trumpet’s thing but you’re the one using the whole orchestra as an instrument. You’re the one expressing through the instrument of the complete and total orchestra. It’s a really empowered level of storytelling. That is essentially what we do whether we’re actors, singers, dancers or writers. We’re storytellers. When you can go into one detailed view of one character and tell that story, that’s great. When you can take the overview and weave an epic story together out of all these little characters and stories, you get a chance to render an even deeper story. And for a storyteller, that’s catnip.”

Looking back over the years, has there been any favorite characters you’ve played?

DW: “It’s difficult for me to pick favorite characters. It’s like saying ‘Who’s your favorite of your children?’ I am invested in all of those characters. They are a part of me and I am a part of them. I can’t really pick favorites. There are those that I had the most fun recording. Berg Katze in ‘Gatchaman Crowds’, German Luis in ‘Garo’, Youji Itami in ‘Gate’, and now Rei in ‘Love Stage!!’. I was born to voice Rei in ‘Love Stage!!’; I was born for it. So those are among I felt the most connectivity with the most quickly. But as for favorites, there’s no such thing”

On the opposite side, were there any that were harder to play?

DW: “Yeah, I’ve played some challenging ones. There was one called Danichirou in a show called ‘Sankarea’. There was pretty tough subject matter in that show. Danichirou was not a good father. It was tough to embrace that. But because the voice I have, I’m forever going to play villains. Not only villains, thank God but villains will always be a part of my repertoire. It’s just the nature of what I have to do at the microphone.
You have to find some understanding if you’re going to play a character like that. Because if you’re in there judging that character while doing it, you can’t expect any better from the audience. And maybe their job is to judge that character, but you have to embrace it. Danichirou was tough to embrace.

Likewise, there was a show we did at Sentai a couple years ago called ‘DRAMAtical Murder’. Since we’re at Yaoi Expo, that seems a good candidate to discuss. I didn’t know anything about ‘DRAMAtical Murder’ until I went into those session, which is often the case. I had been warned ahead of time that there was a lot of gay inference among the characters. I found very interesting. I was really excited about that and was like ‘Yeah, great, let’s do it!’ So in it, I played Ren the dog. In my session, there wasn’t a lot of gay inference in it and I guessed it was living elsewhere. And then we got to the OVA which ended with essentially a half-hour prison rape fantasy. I found myself so turned off by that conclusion. ‘Cause it was like ‘Really? Is this what we need? Is this what we have to do? We have to nurse the gay content until it comes into fruition and at its fruition, it’s a prison rape? We can do better.’

So I was really annoyed by that. I was really disappointed by that and for a long time, I thought I wish I could forget my involvement. But I was actually at a convention just a couple of months ago; I forgot which one it was. I was doing a panel about LGBTQ representation in anime. There was a young man at the panel and he was cosplaying Aoba from ‘DRAMAtical Murder’. He talked to me a few while afterward and at the end of that conversation, I could tell that regardless of the fact that those arcs ended so catastrophic, playing to those gay tropes of Western and Eastern media that I kinda dismissed as tropey and useless, this kid identified with Aoba. Regardless of how that show ended and what took place in that show, he really identified with Aoba and it illuminated something in him. It helped him come to understand himself better at an important time when he was a young person struggling with his sexual identity.

So I changed my tune after that. I thought ‘You never know what an audience member is going to connect with or why.’ The analogy I draw is that when it came out, I knew a lot of women who were very forward thinking, progressive, accomplished and well educated bought a ticket to see ‘50 Shades of Grey’. I’ve never seen but it looks to me like it ain’t so great for the plight of the downtrodden women these days. You never know what people are going to attach to or relate to. Maybe they relate to it because that character is suffering from something they feel they are suffering. It’s not my duty to anticipate how a character is going to resonate with somebody. So I changed my tune about DRAMAtical Murder. I think it’s got a lot of problem as do a lot of yaoi and yuri. There are problems throughout as far as how we in the modern world can see of a reasonable relationships, healthy relationships or healthy life.

So no, there’s not been anything I’m like ‘I wish I hadn’t done’ but there’s been some things that more difficult to do than others.”

Going more on that, I saw that you’re part of the team for “Bloom Into You.” Compared to more of the yuri that is out there, there is a unique cast of characters especially the protagonist, seeing how she’s dealing with her own sexuality. Again, did you have any prior knowledge of the series?

DW: “I had learned about it shortly before it was available to licence. I was aware of a lot of interest in that license and I begged Sentai to fight as hard as they could. I knew very well what a show like that mean for an audience who needed to hear that story. The only other yuri I’ve been involved with at that point was Funimation’s dub of ‘Citrus’. I thought Funimation did a really lovely job. It was Katelyn Barr who wrote that adapted script. And I thought she and the director, Kristen McGuire had done a really lovely job softening the force, the forceful kind of stuff. Which again, it is a trope you see in every yuri, yaoi and hetero relationship that ends in a kabedon. It’s tiring and I was a little disappointed seeing that as I was previewing ‘Citrus’ in preparations for sessions. But I thought they did a lovely job of softening that and making that make a little more sense for a western audience. Still, ‘Citrus’ had its problems and I was glad it existed.

I felt we needed to get an adaptation of ‘Bloom Into You’ where nobody was forced to do anything. These girls were struggling with their own identities and in a much more real way. A much more authentic way. I know it was extremely reflective of my own experience coming up as a gay kid in Texas. Some of the things they were struggling with were things I struggled with when I was their age and I saw myself in that story. I’m really glad it’s out there because I’ve never connected like that before with another yuri title, though there are a lot I haven’t seen.

Yuri always seemed something for the boys. Kinda fanservicey and kinda like ‘This is what straight guys think girls in love might behave like.’ I’m really glad Bloom is out there. There’s an asexual character in ‘Bloom’. I’ve never seen an authentic rendering of an ace character ever. I’m like ‘We have to do this show!’ So I rallied the troops for that one. I was really glad to participate in that show. As far as yuri goes, It’s maybe the most queer positive I’ve ever seen.”

By any chance, do read any other manga?

DW: “I don’t really a lot of manga once again because when I got involved with anime, it was as a participant and not an audience member. I didn’t know anything about manga. Nowadays, the only manga I read is in prep for a show. I’ll refer to a manga before I get involved in production just to see where the story is headed or if there are secret tidbits about characters in the manga that aren’t in the anime. I did a lot of that in ‘Love Stage!!’. No, I generally don’t read a lot of manga. And when I’m prepping for a show, I don’t dive into the whole manga, read the whole thing and memorize it. My job to tell the story in the anime and sometimes that story is different. There’s quite a lot manga out there I’ve never read. I’ve not much of a consumer. I’m getting there. I’m starting to get into it now, but everything in reverse. I started as an actor in anime not knowing anything. I’m coming in everything backwards.”

Did you ever put any of your theater acting methods into your voice acting?

DW: “Sure. Here’s the things about voice acting. People think it’s the easiest way into acting. It’s actually the most difficult. Because every trick I’ve ever learned, every skill I’ve ever refined from working on camera, on stage or in audio, every one of those I use in anime. In order to keep up with the schedule and adhere to the speed of those sessions, you have to be on your game. If you’re an unskilled actor, you’re just gonna pull it off. I’ve known extraordinarily skilled actors from a theater or on-camera background who come in to try to do ADR and it’s completely new universe. It takes them a while to figure it out and some never do.

Everything I ever learned as an actor from any medium, I use in the sound booth because all you have is your voice. You don’t have your body, no wardrobe, no set pieces and costumes or camera tricks. The only thing you have to tell you story is your voice. A lot of people want to go into voice over because they think they can hide behind it. Talk in a booth and be invisible and not be responsible for the character you unleash; It doesn’t work. If you want to be a good actor for anything, you gotta be utterly emotionally naked. And if you can’t do that, don’t act please. Don’t waste people’s time because it’s a tough gig. Acting in ADR is at least as difficult as any other acting I’ve ever done, and it’s coming from someone who has played Macbeth.

It’s tough and you got very few of your usual actor tricks to rely on. You just have go to in and talk on that mic, and you have to be utterly committed to it and absolutely vulnerable. Otherwise it doesn’t land. Even if you’re the bad guy and you’re not vulnerable. Even if you’re an invulnerable villainous bastard, you gotta go in there and be willing to be naked. Otherwise, please don’t act.”

Do you have any tips for aspiring actors?

DW: “Yeah, it’s Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours. If you want to be good in the sound booth, you put in 10,000 hours to acting. 10,000 to master ‘cause you can’t do if you’re a novice. It’s just not going to happen. There are a few people in the world who are born and able to just make magic on the microphone without any training at all. But even then, they are going to run into walls because there are technical things you have to do in the sound booth. They don’t occur to you naturally. So if you want to be an actor in voice over, particularly in any kind of animation where you’re playing actual characters and with actual arts, 10,000 hours of acting experience. I’ve put it in. I’ve started when I was ten and I’m 46 now and almost there.

Be an actor. If you think you have a pretty voice but you can’t act, we cannot use you. We don’t need pretty voices. We don’t need interesting voices. We need actors. If you’re a great actor, we will find a place for whatever kind of voice you have.”

Message to the fans:

DW: “Thank you. Thank you for digging what we do otherwise we can’t do what we do. And I hope they like the new stuff. We’re in a new endeavor now of dubbing shows like ‘Love Stage!!’, ‘Hitorijime My Hero’ and ‘Bloom Into You’. I really want that to take hold because I’m kinda tired of the way gay people are represented in western media, western anything. I’m sick of it. It infuriates me. I don’t want to see it any more and anime has other things to offer. We’re trying to find those and feature them. Adapt them and make them accessible to English-speaking audiences who don’t have anything else.

People want to tell me ‘Oh, but what about ‘Modern Family’? It’s so progressive.’ No. You want to know a little trick? Watch an episode of ‘Modern Family’ and anytime either of those two gay characters come on and gives a laugh line, rewind. Take that line out and replace it with ‘I just wanted to remind everyone that I’m super gay.’ See if it changes the narrative. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. It doesn’t change the narrative and I’m sick of it.

Our stories are worthy. Our stories are deep and they deserved to be told. If for no other reason, so that queer youth has something to look to other than these ridiculous clownish depictions of themselves by ‘Will and Grace’ and ‘Kimmy Schmidt’. We’re not all clowns. We’re not all dressed in fuschia and mincing it across the street. That’s not my story. It’s someone’s story but not the majority. Anime has something to offer way deeper than that and far beyond that. I want to see it. I want to see it brought to the fore. So that’s what I’m fighting for.”

For those interested in seeing some of Wald’s latest directorial work, check out the dubs of “Love Stage!!”, “Hitorijime My Hero”, “Cutie Honey Universe” and “Kokkoku”. Blu-Ray editions of “Love Stage!!” and “Cutie Honey Universe” will be available in July 2019.