Black Women Thrive: Interview with Voice Actress "Reina"

Voice Actress "Reina"
(Cross-posted on The Blasian Narrative).

Determination. Perseverance. Ambition.

Those were the qualities anime character Naruto Uzumaki needed in order to progress from genin or basic ninja level to Hokage or leader of his town, Konoha. Although there were many battles, deaths, and long, arduous journeys between his time as a naive novice and his advancement to the position as one of the strongest ninjas of all time, Naruto always found a way to fight on and progress toward his dream. Oh, and he had to contend with and tame Kurama or Kyuubi, the nine-tailed beast sealed within him at birth for the safety of the populace.

For Reina, Naruto's story has always been a major point of inspiration.

"[Naruto] was a character I identified with the most...[he] had a crazy dream, I had a crazy dream. He was shunned by his society at first [and] I was trying to make my way in Japan[.] [P]eople doubted him, people doubted me. Anytime I was down, when my [J]apanese didn't go well in school, [or] when I was scolded by my teachers, I'd just watch an episode of Naruto, be encouraged by...[the characters'] fight to overcome adversity, and then be able to get back on my feet the next day."

Luckily Reina, a Japanese/English seiyuu or voice actress (VA), never had to fight an inner beast or in a war against evil like Naruto; however, like her fictional counterpart, she had to muster up enough determination to fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a English/Japanese VA in Japan a rarity—possibly a first—for a Black woman in Japan.

Naruto pictured with his inner nine-tails.
"The dream was initially for myself. Race never came into it to be honest. I'm not bound by many stereotypes at all, not even in [L]ondon...I realise though I really want [and] need to succeed." 

Reina's resolute and studious nature was present since she was little. As a child of Ghanaian immigrants, Reina's parents stressed the importance of education as a way to progress in the UK.

"I seemed to naturally do very well in school...it was strongly enforced to study, study, study."

Aside from studying, Reina subliminally immersed herself in Japanese pop culture through cartoons and video games while growing up in the 90s. She discovered Sega games at 11 and encountered the now classic Fist of the North Star anime series at 16. She wondered why the show was rated 18+, yet quickly discovered the reason.

"I checked it out and major, major culture shock. Heads exploding, blood everywhere...I checked the back of the video and saw 'Made in Japan'...and then [I] was like 'I want more!' So I became a shounen [anime made for boys] fangirl after that and kept on renting anime videos."

Eventually, Reina attended Oxford Brooks University where she studied both Computer Science and Japanese. Through the Japanese program, Reina was able to study abroad in Japan in 2004. After graduation, she was free to return to Japan to follow her dream of becoming a Japanese/English VA.

However, becoming a freelance VA has not been a cake walk for Reina. Between constant language study, working as an English teacher to support herself, and experiencing the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, Reina's 11 year journey has been marked by many trails and tribulations. 
Destruction from the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake.
Reina's article in the
Sankei Shimbun.
Before entering VA school, Reina worked as IT support and as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) for two years. When the Tohoku Earthquake occurred, the subsequent devastation, namely worries regarding radiation after the Fukushima nuclear plant leaked, almost drove Reina to consider giving up her dream and returning to England. But despite the dangers, she refused to quit as highlighted in a news article the Sankei Shimbun(産經新聞) wrote about her and other foreigners who remained in Japan after the quake. 

"Nothing or no one was going to stop me from achieving [my dream], it had to be done...I looked at the path of giving up and going to London and I saw...a void, nothingness. That wasn't my path to take, and for the first time, I felt what it meant to be brave...what it meant to have faith. I made the choice to willingly risk my life and do this."

Reina with her three friends from VA school.
Yet aside from navigating post-Tohoku life in Japan, Reina had to contend with the difficulties of being the only foreign studentsin the VA course at her school. Positively, she was not offered preference over her classmates for being a non-native speaker, yet a few trusted kind, sympathetic classmates made an effort to include and assist her when she was struggling.

"I [had to] either...play their game and be treated the same or be forever a gaijin [foreigner]. Teacher wise, they pushed me. [C]lassmate wise...only three people I could truly consider my 'friends' helped me with my Japanese intonation."

Reina's graduation ceremony.
Although it wasn't always easy, Reina's experiences at VA were well worth it, and in 2013, she graduated. With no prospects of joining a Japanese talent agency, she was offered a position within three days of her graduation and worked as a bilingual VA for two years before striking out on her own and freelancing since April of this year while teaching English on the side. Since then, she has participated in her own ad-lib chat show that included taking on the challenge of doing traditional Japanese silent movie narration called katsuben. In addition, Reina participated in Tokyo International Players' bilingual (English and Japanese) version of Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet".

Nonetheless, although she speaks Japanese at a high level and has done VA work in the language, she admits she mainly takes English language jobs as she is still perfecting aspects of the language which come more easily to native speakers, "I work on reading aloud, faster and more naturally."

She advises other Japanese learns to take a careful, meticulous approach to learning the language, use all the resources available to them, and practice conversational nuances like intonation and rhythm.

"Copy what you hear on Japanese drama[s] [or] anime, keep speaking, keep reading aloud to increase your skills of seeing kanji [Japanese characters derived from Chinese] and reading it instantly. Silent reading [or] studying won't get you too far. I learnt that painfully the first three months of voice acting school."

Still, Reina's position as a VA has given her opportunities to meet big names in the seiyuu world, like Korean-Japanese VA Romi Paku (Nana Osaki from Nana; Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist), and Junko Takeuchi (Lambo from Katekyo Hitman Reborn; Honjo Kamatari from Rurouni Kenshin), the voice of Naruto!

Reina expressing her gratitude to
Takeuchi on Edogawa Lunch.
Reina and Takeuchi met during an episode of Edogawa Lunch (江戸川ラーンチ), a program which introduces people and events related to the Edogawa area of Tokyo. Reina's friend from the Film Center Tokyo School of Arts who works for the program was able to arrange a meeting with Takeuchi for Reina. It was a complete surprise. In the segment, Reina visits a komatsuna or Japanese mustard spinach farm, common in Edogawa ward, and meets a well-known chef in order to make cakes with the vegetable's leaves. She was then given the opportunity to present the cakes to Takeuchi and thank her for lending her voice to the character that encouraged her for a decade. 

"She is the equivalent of a a[n] A-list [H]ollywood star...I'd have never imagined in my wildest dreams [that] I'd meet the woman who gave life to the character I walked with for 10 years."

Aside from improving her craft as a VA, Reina enjoys singing in her church's choir and learning kenjutsu or Japanese sword skills, which are also useful for performing on stage. Within the next few years, she hopes to perfect her singing and acting skills enough to participate in a musical, establish a fanbase, work as an interpreter, and receive a notable role in a Japanese anime show. 

"I have my seeds planted, [I] just need to give [them] more water and sunshine so they all grow healthily."

Reina also has some water to offer aspiring gaijin VAs:

"Become what you want. Live life as if you're already in your dream job. Don't strive like it's a goal ahead of you...As a foreigner, competing with natives, you'll get looks of doubt, scorn, [and] derision, but you'll also get lots of encouragement and respect. For every brick thrown at you, use it. Build your foundation, the steps you need to climb that mountain, 'cause for us, it's very, very steep. Steps make it easier."

Reina's VA website: Reina『麗』


  1. Glad to be the first to congratulate you on ur journey, well done. The sky won't be your limit, u will go above the sky keep the fire burning. Proud of you dear xxxx.

  2. Thank you very much for your kind words. :)