There are many things that can make a video game memorable. From an exquisite story, to a compelling soundtrack, or even a lavish art style. But then there is the voice acting. Not every game might have voice acting, but there are many that do and it is a great way of giving life to the characters we get to play as and fall in love with.
This is Behind the Voice, a series of interviews where we chat to stellar voice actors and hear things from their side of the fence and having heard from the wonderful Brianna Knickerbocker, joining us today is someone else who is just as iconic. He spat up blood when he voiced Red Magnus, he’s the prince of all Saiyans and he’s something of a solver of the mysterious, because he is the great detective Pikachu! It is our absolute pleasure to have had the chance to talk to Kaiji Tang and ask him a whole bunch of questions and today, we’re sharing all his answers.
So, I hope you’re sitting comfortably, and have time to spare, because not only do we cover a wide range of things in this interview, it’s also quite a long one and yes, there is a lot of Fire Emblem & Detective Pikachu content to read up on. Let’s do this:
In typical interview fashion, would you be so kind to introduce yourself to our readers and tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
Kaiji Tang: Hi! My name is Kaiji Tang! I’m a voice actor here in Los Angeles, California. I moved to this country from Shanghai when I was four years old and have been a fan of animation and video games my entire life! I’m also torn between soup dumplings and the Chicago hot dog as the perfect food. It’s rare I’m able to drag my corpse out of bed for breakfast and I think pants are overrated. That basically sums me up pretty well.
Home Sweet Home:
Miketendo64: For the purposes of this interview, I actually did a bit of digging to so as to know your history better than I already did. Since you were born in Shanghai, but live in Los Angeles for work reasons, do you visit Shanghai often?
Kaiji Tang: I do! Well “often” meaning once every two to three years. Shanghai is always vastly different every time I go. New buildings go up every single year so it’s hard to be able to find your way when the city seemingly morphs so quickly. Though the small hole in the wall restaurant across the street from the apartment I grew up in is still there! Though it’s surrounded by new buildings and shops, the locals apparently liked this place enough to save it. Whew!
Voices of Gaming:
Miketendo64: In my research, I come across your YouTube channel, where you used to do Voices of Gaming and now have Voice Actors Play Fairy Fencer F. What prompted this particular focus for a YouTube channel?
Kaiji Tang: Oh, Voices of Gaming was always just a fun project for myself and my friend Joseph Servantez. Since we were all in the entertainment industry and had access to the casts of a lot of these games, we just thought it’d be funny to watch them talk trash to each other while playing these games. It’s not updated much these days as both Joe and I lead far busier lives than we did, but that’s not to say we’ll never update it again!
Voice Acting Origins:
Miketendo64: Something else I read about you however, is you never set out to be a voice actor. It’s a similar case among many voice actors, but why did you fall into this particular field and did you have any inkling you’d be in it for the long haul?
Kaiji Tang: Yeah, voice acting wasn’t even remotely on my radar when I first came to LA. At the beginning, I was doing far more on-camera work for commercials, films, etc. It wasn’t until a random audition opportunity to record a podcast show for a dubbing studio popped up that my life more or less changed forever. Through the podcast, I was introduced to a director who took a chance on me and put me into one of the shows he was working on. I’ve been on this VO train ever since.
Everybody wants Something!:
Miketendo64: As an actor who has voiced characters for TV shows, video games, and even a couple of movies (Battle Royale & Tekken: Blood Vengeance) how do you find adjusting to each role you undertake and do you have a process for keeping them apart?
Kaiji Tang: On the acting side of things, I feel that finding something real in each character you portray is the secret to creating strong performances. Every one of these characters wants something. Has an ideology. Etc. Once you can tap into that, it’s much easier to see them as a real person. And real people react in very real, unique ways. However, on the fan side of things, I will say, having come from a history of pop culture consumption has helped me immensely in booking some of my roles. For example, if you walk into the booth and you’re the only actor that day who can break down the character’s lore better than the client on the other side of the glass can, you’re probably going to have a huge advantage in shaping that character’s personality traits. You already know who they are! Now you can just focus on sprinkling your interpretation on them.
Kaiji Tang the Gamer:
Miketendo64: As far as your voice acting goes, you have been involved with quite the number of iconic series. From Dragon Ball, to Fire Emblem, to Persona, RWBY, and even Xenoblade, you’re clearly an actor of culture. But, what prompted you to get involved with voice acting for video games and are you much of a gamer yourself? Do you have much time to play games?
Kaiji Tang: When you’re young, you have all the time in the world to play video games but no money to buy them. Then you’re older, the opposite is true. I’ve been gaming since I was a little kid in Shanghai playing on a knock-off Atari system. I’ve owned every Nintendo system since the original NES. All the SEGA systems. Every Sony system. I’ve been playing World of Warcraft since BETA and before that, Everquest. Did you know if you hit Ruby Weapon with the Hades Summon it freezes him? I could FADC into Ultra with my eyes closed. Memorizing Zerg build orders was a hobby. Those were good days.
Technically I guess you can say these days are better. I’ve managed to become involved in the creative side of everything I love. It’s just…now the spare time I have left over every day goes into random Gatcha games on my cell phone. (If you play Fate: GO, Memoria Freese or Fire Emblem Heroes…hit me up on Twitter)
Voicing Red Magnus & Vegeta:
Miketendo64: Before I’d like to talk to you about a number of games you’ve been involved with relating to Nintendo, you’ve also voiced two of my favourite muscle bound hotheads. Vegeta in Dragon Ball Super and Red Magnus from Disgaea 5. What’s it like to be able to go from bossing around Prinnies getting all hot and bothered when in a Pocket Universe and then to being one of the greatest fictional fighters and go Super Saiyan?
Kaiji Tang: I’ll never forget voicing Red Magnus. He was my very first introduction to BLEEDING FROM THE THROAT. The loud, almost shouty way he speaks really ripped up my vocals something fierce. I straight up spit up some blood. That was fun. I love the spirit of the character, but I’m not sure I’d be able to reprise his voice the same way again, haha. Vegeta was pure unadulterated 12-year-old wish fulfillment. I can’t describe to you the feeling of being in the booth and hearing those three beeps in your headset counting down till the first time you have to deliver a line as the Prince of all Saiyans. I’m humbled and honored by the opportunity to have provided a voice for Vegeta. It’ll be an experience I’ll never forget.
Xenogears and Xenoblade:
Miketendo64: Moving on to games relating to Nintendo platforms, prior to signing on for Xenoblade Chronicles X, had you previous knowledge of the Xenoblade and Xenosaga series beforehand, or was it something you looked into once you were recording?
Kaiji Tang: Hi! I had played Xenogears on the original PlayStation and that was my only interaction with the series until Xenoblade Chronicles X. Though after being hooked, I did spend a shameful amount of time Mech grinding end game. But I’m happy to say I can now one shot giant monsters with the best of them.
Owain (A Character built on Loss!):
Miketendo64: Although, it’s not just Xenoblade you’ve been involved with, as you’re also heavily involved with Fire Emblem? What’s it like to be able to keep returning to one particular series, over and over and play Owain in 3 different games? (Awakening, Heroes & Warriors)
Kaiji Tang: It has been some of the most fun, most rewarding recording experiences of my life playing Owain in the Fire Emblem franchise. It never feels like I have to act all that hard when the role comes up as both of us are fairly similar personality wise. I mean ask my wife. I make up dramatic names for everything. At the end of the day, Owain is a character built on loss. His theatrics are his coping mechanism for his hard childhood. Remember me saying you have to find something real about every character you play? Living that fact in the booth allows the character to breathe and play in ways you couldn’t manage with just reading words off a page. I love the guy.
Miketendo64: Was Owain always the character you went into to portray or the one you needed up with? He’s certainly something else, that’s for sure!
Kaiji Tang: I believe I auditioned for a whole slew of characters at the beginning! Fortunately, Owain was the one who sounded the best from the get-go. I’d have it no other way at this point.
Fire Emblem Heroes (Recording & Collecting):
Miketendo64: Only, Owain isn’t the only character you voice when it comes to Fire Emblem, as you also voice Odin, Shiro and Ignatius in Fates and Narcian in Heroes? Due to the nature of Heroes and how new characters are introduced, did you voice all characters around the same time, or was it a case of being called back and do a new recording a few months later on?
Kaiji Tang: We recorded a couple of them at the same time, yes. But not all! I remember Odin, Narcian, and Lloyd were recorded in the same session, but I had to come back later to record Shiro. Side note: I’ve had the extreme fortune of obtaining all of my characters so far in Heroes. Fingers crossed, knock on wood, etc. Let’s hope that continues.
Fire Emblem (Keeping the Characters separate):
Miketendo64: Also, because have voiced different characters during your Fire Emblem outings, what is your process when it comes trying to get into the mind-set of each character? Is it easy to keep each character separate, or something you’ve always got to work out?
Kaiji Tang: When you’re asked to perform a large number of characters in the same universe, no matter how diverse your range, you will always feel in danger of making some of them sound “the same”. I’ve been very fortunate in Fire Emblem that the characters I’ve played all have fairly different personalities. Odin being the exception of course. Narcian is a grandiose, megalomanic ham. Shiro is an earnest, jockish prince. Ignatius is a sweet cinnamon bun. Lloyd is a cool as a cucumber merc. And Owain is just me.
Fire Emblem Warriors (Recording for the Base game and Awakening DLC)
Miketendo64: One last Fire Emblem question before moving on. When Fire Emblem Warriors was first revealed, it came as a welcome surprise to fans. At which point did you find out about the game and was asked to reprise your role of Owain? Also, was all your lines recorded in one series of sessions or did you have to return to voice your lines for the Awakening DLC?
Kaiji Tang: I found out about the game before I was contacted! So I had no idea whether or not Owain would be making an appearance. I don’t think I found out until much, much later that I’d be reprising and of course it was welcomed news! We did the first round of recording for just the base game. It wasn’t until months and months had passed that they called me in to record on the Awakening DLC.
The Intended Voice of Detective Pikachu:
Miketendo64: Now onto something a little different, Detective Pikachu. You’re not just a voice of a character in the game, you are the voice of Pikachu and I’ve got to admit, you did a pretty awesome job. I mean, you’re clearly not Danny Devito, who fans wanted to voice the great detective, but you did a fantastic nonetheless. Was the voice we hear in the game the one you used to audition with, or was it a direction you were pushed into and then made into your own?
Kaiji Tang: So funny story. Before I got the audition for Detective Pikachu, I was like everyone else, hoping desperately against hope that somehow Nintendo would be able to hire Danny Devito as the titular character. I mean come on, it’s so perfect. So of course when I got the chance to audition, I sent them a “Devito” take along with the rest. Whether or not that was a factor in me getting hired is a mystery, haha. However I spoke to the client while recording and he informed me that even though the Devito meme was hilarious, Nintendo had always wanted that kind of gruff pseudo-New Yorker noir voice for Pikachu. So even if the Devito meme had never happened, Pikachu was always going to end up sounding like he could give you lessons in doing your taxes and alimony payments.
Miketendo64: And for the sake of it, with regards to the casting, was Detective Pikachu the role you went in for, you just the one you ended up with and whole approached who regarding the gig?
Kaiji Tang: I do believe for Detective Pikachu, the character himself was the sole character I auditioned for.
The Joys of Voicing Detective Pikachu:
Miketendo64: With recording generally involving voice actors only every knowing their own lines, and not the responses, were there any scenes in the game that left you wanting to know the full extent of going on and do you have any favourite scenes/dialogue that you recorded for Detective Pikachu?
Kaiji Tang: In this era of instant information, it was simple enough for me to do some homework before every recording session! Though even that wasn’t too necessary as I had the client there every day to tell me exactly what was happening in every scene and how the story was progressing. I remember every time we recorded Pikachu being out of breath trying to do one of his signature moves the entire room had to stop and recover from laughing before we could move on. The poor little thing is so out of shape and it’s weirdly endearing. Like dude, I empathized so hard. That’s me trying to handle life in the mornings, bro. I feel ya.
Detective Pikachu was Recorded in Early 2017:
Miketendo64: This one you might not be able to answer, but can you say when you recorded your lines for the Detective Pikachu? The exact date is not necessarily, but a year would be nice, so as to give us an idea as to when recording for the game started?
Kaiji Tang: We began recording Detective Pikachu in early 2017!
Detective Pikachu Loves his Coffee:
Miketendo64: Due to an unhealthy coffee addiction Detective Pikachu seems to have, are you much of a coffee drinker yourself or is that all him?
Kaiji Tang: Haha, I actually was a far heavier coffee drinker earlier in my life! Though I will say I’ve never had a snobby coffee moment like the great mouse detective has. I’m a fairly simple cream with two sugars kinda guy. Detective Pikachu would probably chew me out if he saw me dumping half and halves into my brew.
The Game & the Huge amiibo:
Miketendo64: Well, since you are in the game, have you picked up Detective Pikachu at all, to experience it for yourself?
Kaiji Tang: I just got my copy, yes!! And also the HUGE amiibo that was released with it, holy crap. As soon as I find the charging cord to my 3DS I’m gonna pop it in and take it for a spin!
Miketendo64: Only, Detective Pikachu won’t just remain as a game for the 3DS as the film of it is being filmed in London this year. Having played Detective Pikachu yourself, are you at all interested to seeing what Ryan Reynolds will do with the role?
Kaiji Tang: Oh, I’m thrilled to hear his take. Ryan Reynolds is a fantastic actor and I’m sure he’s going to bring it! I’m secretly hoping Detective Pikachu waddles across the screen during the end credits of Deadpool 2.
Miketendo64: That would be awesome.
Detective Pikachu (There’s Always More Mysteries to Crack):
Miketendo64: Most important Detective Pikachu question, should Nintendo and The Pokémon Company do a sequel, is it a role you’d happily return to, or would you rather let someone else have a go?
Kaiji Tang: I would LOVE to return to the role if possible! I know things move quickly in this industry. One voice could be another in the next volume but if I had it my way I’d be gumshoeing as the great detective for as long as Nintendo allows me to do so. There are plenty more mysteries to solve. And even if it goes to another actor, I hope it’s someone who played the original Pokémon games for the Gameboy back in the day. Someone who loves and appreciates the franchise as much as I do. One can hope anyway!
A Life worth Living:
Miketendo64: Ending all video game voicing talk now, if you wasn’t voice acting for video games, what do you picture yourself, doing instead? Still doing anime or something else entirely?
Kaiji Tang: I’d still be here in Los Angeles doing what I love. Acting is my life’s passion. If I wasn’t specifically acting in video games, it’d be in anime, commercials, movies, theatre, whatever I could get my hands on really. As fun as imagining alternate timelines is, I wouldn’t have it any other way at this point. I met all the best friends I have in my life through the VO industry along with my wife, who is my whole world. Because as much as I’d love to act for the rest of my life, I could also easily see myself settling down on some acreage with my wife in the future. I don’t want to exist in a timeline where she and I aren’t happily married.
Miketendo64: As for when you’re not working and spending time with your wife, is there anything you like to do in particular to relax?
Kaiji Tang: I love playing video games with my wife when time allows! We’re also huge foodies so a lot of our adventures involve finding new and exciting places to stuff our faces. We’ve driven to Portland from LA just because, been to Burning Man, and travel to cons all across the country together. We’re also happy to spend nights in with the cats and watch silly things on YouTube. I’m also an avid Magic: The Gathering player. I know it may not be the *most* relaxing card game, but for me, it brings back a lot of nostalgia. U/G Infect represent!
Living the Dream!:
Miketendo64: Being a talented voice actor in your own right, are there any voice actors you take inspiration from and any character in particular they’ve voice, you simply love?
Kaiji Tang: I’m constantly amazed by all my friends. I do remember a moment when I was in my much earlier 20’s when I was playing World of Warcraft. I heard Patrick Seitz as Arthas in the Stratholme area and I thought to myself how amazing it was that he got to be a part of a universe like this. That’s when I told myself I’d start taking this VO business seriously and try to become the best version of my VA self as I could. And now we get to be a part of projects together, how cool is that?
Miketendo64: Mondo cool!
Words of Advice:
Miketendo64: Given your 11 years as a successful voice actor, do you have any pearls of wisdom that you’d happily pass on to all those willing to follow in your footsteps into the world of acting?
Kaiji Tang: Absolutely! You’ll no doubt come across some daunting realities in this business. No one owes you a job and rejection is constant. This isn’t a job for someone looking to get famous. This isn’t a job for narcissists. It’s not a job to “do on the side.” Come into the business with a healthy respect for not only the characters you’ll be playing, not only your peers, but also yourself. We all experience pain through our lives. Everyone. And when you’re going through something rough, it’s all the harder to have a more cohesive perspective and care for others.
Do your best to take care of yourself, physically and mentally. What gets in the way of everyone’s acting is simply themselves. You’ll find the happier you are, the more open-minded you’ll be when it comes to learning the skillset to thrive in VO. Be as true as you can while voicing these characters. They’re not just a paycheck. Your work has the chance to bring a smile to someone’s face who really, really needed it that day. And sometimes that could mean everything. So please come play with us. Bring your love, kindness, and patience. We’d love to have you!
More to come from 2018:
Miketendo64: Other than Detective Pikachu, what else does 2018 have in store for you? Can we expect to hear your voice again in another show or game? Or must we now wait until 2019?
Kaiji Tang: You can check out Bungo Stray Dogs, which just came out on Funimation! The first season is up and you can hear me as Osamu Dazai! Also, the third season of Wakfu just hit Netflix. You can hear me as Nox and Black Bump in that! There’s a BUNCH of video games coming out this year that I’m still under NDA for, but I will say you should keep an ear open at E3 this year. Methinks one or two of my games will be shown there. So excited!
A Message for the Fans:
Miketendo64: And because there’s always time for one last question, here’s ours: Is there anything you would like to say to your ever-growing fanbase and supporters?
Kaiji Tang: Thank you for being on this weird, whacky journey with me. I am humbled by your patronage and my heart is filled to bursting. I hope to share more adventures, food porn, and VO stories for many years to come. Let’s all work together to chase our happiness and bring some good into the world.
Kaiji, thank you for your time. You were absolutely brilliant and your responses are utterly fantastic! Best of luck with your future endeavours and we hope to hear you again in a possible Detective Pikachu 2!