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Greg Ayres Makes His Grand Return To Anime Boston

Greg Ayres is a fixture of both anime dubs and anime conventions. His most famous roles include Kaoru Hitachiin in "Ouran High School Host Club," both Kaworu Nagisa and Kensuke Igurashi in different "Neon Genesis Evangelion" dubs, Nagisa Hazuki in "Free!: Iwatobi Swim Club," and Frost in "Dragon Ball Super." Most recently, he voiced Chai on Adult Swim and Crunchyroll's "Shenmue: The Animation" (via IMDb). But Ayres isn't only an anime voice actor — he's a serious fan, and he goes above and beyond in getting involved in various events at anime conventions across America.

Looper got the chance to attend Ayres' press panel at Anime Boston 2022 and ask the actor a few questions. Due to the panel's late start and the in-depth nature of Ayres' answers, we only had time for three questions, but the answers provide plenty of insight into the future of the anime industry, Ayres' special panel plans at this year's convention, and the controversy over the constant English recasting of "Evangelion."

The ups and downs of mega-mergers

What are your thoughts on the Crunchyroll-Funimation merger, and what you think that means for the industry?

That is the way all media is moving now. I also work for Sentai Filmworks, and they were recently acquired by AMC. I worked for so many ... and the "Walking Dead" people, but that is the way all big media is going right now. 

You can always look at it one of two ways. You can always look at it as being owned by an overlord, or, "I now work for people that have much deeper pockets." I'm trying to look at it from the much deeper pockets aspect, because along with Sony comes a much greater reach in Japan — because Crunchyroll, Funimation, technically that's all owned by Sony. 

When it comes to licensing and wanting to be able to get better licensing, I want a Japanese company that has dealings with and existing relations with Japanese companies because it's better for licensing. If being in cahoots with two big companies means we get better licensing, so be it. Again, [there are] bad things that come with mergers and blah, blah, blah ... I just work here. I don't control, like, "Oh, the studios are this or that." But as a fan, [and] also as a guy that used to think, "How many years will it be till I see this license show up in the States?" — the bigger the companies, the quicker that happens.

As a fan, that means more anime. That means different options. When I first started working, there was no streaming, and now you can watch anime 24 hours a day, provided you have a decent internet connection — legally — and sometimes things that have just come out in Japan. I think bigger business is better, [and] with that comes a lot of slings and arrows. That's part of growing up or working in an industry. Again, I don't have any control over it, so I might as well look at the positive sides of it.

I've seen good things coming of licensing from both mergers, both from AMC and from the Crunchyroll-Funimation-Sony one. I just recorded [in person] for the first time at the Crunchyroll studios. It's gorgeous. It's a beautiful studio, really cool campus, very weeby and nerdy. I loved it. It didn't feel like I was going to a bank to record. It felt like I was going to a nerdy clubhouse to record. I'm going to see a lot of positives so far. Good question.

Greg Ayres' Animal Crossing fandom

You're a very active panelist at conventions. This year at Anime Boston, your special panel — other than the typical Q&A ones — is "Evenings with Isabelle," which I assume has something to do with "Animal Crossing."

It does.

Has anyone attempted to license the "Animal Crossing" anime movie?

Oh man, I don't know. It's so weird. I've seen it ... I saw there was a clip of it in one of the "Animal Crossing" groups I'm in — very bizarre little movie.

If you were to play the voice of any "Animal Crossing" character in an anime, either a dub of that movie or a new project, what would you want to play?

This is the hardest part. I can't imagine the "Animal Crossing" characters saying anything except the [imitates the Animalese gibberish from the game]. That said, I have favorite characters. I have an attachment to K.K. Slider, because he's some big music dude. I liked Tommy and Timmy Nook because they're funny. They work, they don't realize Tom's a bad guy ... 

If you come to the panel, you'll realize I, in my not-so-real life, have a frog boyfriend named Henry, and if I could be anybody, it would be Henry, but I honestly can't imagine those characters making any other sounds than that weird [Animalese gibberish] that I hear when I'm playing. It's neat that there's a whole anime about it. In fact, there's a lot of GIFs from it. If you go to the GIF keyboard, there's tons of GIFs from the "Animal Crossing" anime, but that panel happened kind of out of an accident.

I really love it because normally it's my Sunday panel, and it's tough at cons because the weekend's so special to us. Then, on Sunday, as the day starts to wrap up, you're like, "Now I have to go back to real life." Lately, I've always tried to find a really uplifting point for Sunday because it's our last day and break at noon or whatever. That panel is normally done on Sunday, and it's a surprisingly feel-good panel.

The subject matter starts pretty heavy [at] the beginning of the panel, I won't lie. It's about how I deal long-term with my depression and anxiety. When I found this game was when my entire life was on fire. As we get further into the panel, you find out that a lot of people have had that experience with the game, and when during the panel we play the "Animal Crossing" music, it's like, "Oh, this is very relaxing." I love that panel. It's my favorite panel that I do right now.

The many voices of Kaworu Nagisa

You are one of six actors to have played the role of Kaworu Nagisa from "Neon Genesis Evangelion" in English.

Six of us now. I was number three.

As many people have played that role as have been married to Henry VIII.

That's so funny. So far, I'm the only common thread between all of them too, because the original was done by Kyle Sturdivant, and I knew him from the Houston theater community. The second one was Aaron Krohn, whose mother was my first dance teacher. Then I did it, and then Jerry Jewel was next. I worked with him at Funimation, and then Cliff Chapin Jr., who's one of my directors and also printed it, and now Daman Mills, who shares a role with my brother. I'm still the one common thread of all the "Evangelion" Kaworus.

I wanted to know why that role, in particular, has been recast more than any of the others.

Who knows? A lot of those roles have been recast, and it's not a secret. I was butthurt the first time I was recast out of it. When you look at it, Kaworu has always been played by a different person. Knowing that, I don't feel it's personal. That's one of those roles everybody wants a shot at, and that should be okay. A lot of the actors in the Netflix stuff took a lot of unnecessary abuse from people that are like, "I would only stand by Spencer," and that wasn't fair to Casey [Mongillo] as an actor. How many Romeo and Juliets have we seen? God knows Gainax is not going to stop putting out Evangelion stuff. Why not [let] everybody have a crack at Rei or everybody have a crack at Kaworu?

As long as the material is treated respectfully, that's all I really care about. That was one of my favorite roles at that time. I'm glad Cliff got to feel that same excitement. When I was standing [in] the booth and saw the NERV logo flash, I almost peed a little bit ... As a nerdy anime fan, that's a huge thing to be a part of "Evangelion." I'm glad that Cliff got to experience that and Casey got to experience that and so many other people. It's so weird that people like to pit us against each other as actors, because we're all just pretending to be some character that somebody else made up. I'm very proud of the work that all of them do.

I don't know why there's some characters that got recast as others. Anytime I feel butthurt about losing Kaworu, I have to realize that Monica Rial went from playing Maya Ibuki to Pen Pen. That is definitely a bigger downgrade than going from Kaworu to Kensuke. We both have a really good sense of humor about it ... I don't know why roles get recast, but I'm glad I'm working. 

This is a job where you're always working. I'm glad [that] if I'm not working, it's going to a friend. It'd be different if it was some actor I don't get along with and they got the role, I'd be like [grumbles], but it's Cliff. I love Cliff. I love Jerry. It's one of those things [where] I'm glad somebody I like is doing the part, not somebody that's just going through the motions.

This interview was edited for clarity.