Interview: KENN and Atsushi Abe on IDOLiSH7 And the Art of Performance

Among the different mediums that tend to get anime adaptations, IDOLiSH7 is one of the unique few to start as a mobile game and precipitate manga, novels, and anime. The first form of IDOLiSH7 is a rhythm game wherein players assume the role of an idol group’s manager. Playing as the manager, the player is tasked with leading the eponymous idol group into fame and success. The anime’s first season premiered with 17 episodes in 2018. Over the next 5 years, IDOLiSH7 would air a second and third season and get a concert film titled IDOLiSH7 the Movie: LIVE 4bit BEYOND THE PERiOD.

At this year’s Anime NYC, we, alongside other members of the press, got the opportunity to speak with IDOLiSH7 voice actors KENN, who voices Tamaki Yotsuba, and Atsushi Abe, who voices Sougo Ousaka. The two gave us some incredible insight into their roles, characters, and perceptions of the various forms of media IDOLiSH7 has spawned over time. Thanks to Anime Corner’s Gerrymelyn Casupang for helping me come up with questions.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Can you tell us about the idols you voice? What do you think is their main appeal? What is important to
you when performing the voices of the idols?

Abe: I play Sougo Ousaka. I believe that one of his biggest appeals is his gap, i.e. the difference in personalities that he has. Usually, he’s a very kind and gentle person. But when he drinks alcohol he gets very drunk and turns into a drastic person who will do things like open doors with a screwdriver. I think that the difference in the personalities he has is the main appeal of the character.

KENN: I voice Tamaki Yotsuba, and his character had his own personal reason to become an idol. He was very fixated on that.
He couldn’t see the big picture; he would only look through a pinhole. He would cause trouble for other people around him because he was only fixated on that goal. But over the years, as time went by, he was able to form a bond with the rest of the members. By forming this bond, he was able to fully understand what it truly means to take care of and please his fans. I believe that the speed of his growth, his character growth, is probably the fastest out of all the group members. So I believe that’s his main appeal. In addition to Tamaki, all the group members have their own personal problems and their own personal struggles. It’s not just the glittery things that they show to the audience, but it’s more real. Very realistic struggles. And so I believe that the appeal for not just Tamaki, but to all the other members as well, is how much they overcome struggle and how they put in effort to provide their performances to their audience.

Abe: IDOLiSH7 depicts both the fans and the idols and the relationships between those two as well. It also shows a very realistic depiction of the fans kind of losing control from the excitement that they’re having. I believe it’s a rare depiction that you see in idol anime, so I believe that’s part of the big appeal of this show as well. For Sougo, the character itself, even when he goes a little crazy by getting drunk and doing all these very crazy actions, the base of his character is still that he’s a very kind and gentle soul. So even when he does those crazy actions, whatever he does, I try to keep the main core intact as much as possible.

KENN: For Tamaki, I talked about how fast he grows as a character. But there’s a spectrum that he works on. He still has some instinctual parts, some parts where he just does things without thinking. So I try to keep that balance of his mental growth, of becoming more mature and more understanding of his own identity as an idol. I keep that balance of the instinctual parts and his mental parts and his mental fortitude as well when I play the part.

Do you have a favorite scene or song from IDOLiSH7 the Movie: LIVE 4bit BEYOND THE PERiOD? If so,
could you elaborate on why?

Abe: All the songs are very great, but there’s one song called ‘Tomorrow Evidence.’ The song itself was made by Sougo, and then the dance and choreography were done by Tamaki. And so in a sense, it’s a song made by the two people from MEZZO” [a two-person unit within the broader IDOLiSH7 group]. The song kind of shows up a little later in the movie, and it’s a little emotional because of the fact that the entire group is performing a song made by the two of us, which is what I find pretty emotional. Another part that I like about it is that all three groups from the show come together to perform that one song, which is what I find very emotional. It left a good impression on me.

KENN: So this is something that Kensho Ono, who voiced Riku Nanase, also mentioned, but ‘Monster Generation’ was a song that the idols performed early in their career when they didn’t get many audiences. And so even though it left a little bit of a bitter feeling of not many people showing up, it was still one of their very important songs since it was one of their first. It was very impressionable because when they performed the song again, once they had a larger audience when everyone was showing up, the contrast between the two times they performed it left a very great impression on me. On top of that, keeping the memory of the early performance in mind, we changed the latter performance a little bit more. In doing so we provided a new experience to all of the fans that were here from the beginning. That left a very good impression on me, just as Kensho Ono said as well.

On MyAnimeList, IDOLiSH7 is the highest-ranked male idol anime as voted by overseas fans. It is often
recommended as ‘the one’ male idol anime you need to watch. What do you think are the charming points of
the IDOLiSH7 franchise?

Abe: IDOLiSH7 portrays not just the shiny extravagant side of the idol industry, but also the amount of effort being put into each of the performances. I believe this series depicts both of those aspects very well. One of the points of this series is that you’re able to see what gets put in and the amount of determination from the idols as they do these performances. You get to see all the effort and all their thoughts and feelings. I believe that’s one of the big charm points of the series. If I were to make a metaphor for it, the fans see a star. But in reality, idols are just humans putting on some glitter and silver paper to make us look like stars. What I like about the series is that it depicts idols not as someone on a pedestal; they’re still just the same people, but they just put in that much more effort to become a star and to be shown as a star.

KENN: (sighing) Me too (laughter) just kidding. There are a lot of jobs and occupations out there in the world. Out of all those jobs, whether it be fun jobs or very hard jobs, this series really dives deep into the job of an idol. Even though it talks more about the realistic, more deep-dive parts of the job as an idol, it also shows the fun parts, the more shining, attractive parts.
The characters are also very cute. They have cute mascot characters as well. There’s nothing left behind when they depict the idol industry. I believe one of the biggest appeals of this show is that it shows everything about what it takes to be an idol, whether it be the small or unnoticed parts. Both of those things are being shown to the audience. I believe that’s one of the biggest appeals of the show.

In IDOLiSH7, many of the idols undergo significant character development. How do you ensure that their lines
are delivered with the right amount of energy and impact to resonate with the fans?

Abe: IDOLiSH7 started off as a mobile game. The anime itself is really just a reenactment of what happens in the mobile game. But, there are some different ways that they express some lines in the anime. I think about how lines will be displayed in the anime vs in the mobile game and there’s a whole lot of work with talking to the director as well. The lines in the anime initially were all performed in the mobile game. So I tried to remember the first time I performed those lines while it was in the game. Although there are some differences in the anime, I still try to make sure that the basis and the core of what I performed previously are still left behind when I perform the lines in the anime.

KENN: Tamaki Yotsuba has a lot of character development throughout the series. So first, I try to understand Tamaki as a person, not just as a character. In the process of understanding the character, as I perform I’ll build it up and then deconstruct it, then build it up, then deconstruct it, and repeat that process over and over again. For the finished product, I try to really think about the words that he says and the things that he actually thinks since they’re a little different. I try to view the minor differences between the two words and his feelings. Like I said before, from the mobile game to the anime, once again, I’ll build up the character and deconstruct it. I’ll continue that process over and over again. I find that process very fun and I put that in my efforts into voicing the character.

What was your impression when you heard the new song ‘NiGHTFALL’ performed by IDOLiSH7 at the concert?

Abe: I’d already done the recording of the song previously, so I’d already heard the song before the live performance. But midway through the performance, the characters show up from the audience. I wasn’t told of that, so I was very surprised. I thought it was a very interesting way of performing the song. I really thought, ‘Oh, so this is how you want to perform the song.’ I thought that was very interesting. The costume that I wore, had an image of the night sky which I thought was very pretty and very cool.

KENN: Please don’t take this the wrong way, but when we’re recording, we don’t have a final image of what the song is supposed to be like. Obviously, it’s just listening to the song. Just from the sound alone, we try to reach our own final product image, but we personally don’t actually know what it’s supposed to look like. So because we don’t have the full final image, I really like it when we get surprised in a good way by how it’s done. I really like that whenever we make a song, a lot of people are involved in it, whether it be the artists, the video people, the production team, or everyone else. As a fan of the series myself, I really like it when I’m pleasantly surprised by how the final product looks like. ‘Nightfall’ became one of my favorite songs because of this. When we do these performances, even though we are idols, I think it’s great that we can enjoy it ourselves as part of the audience as well. That’s one of the great parts of performing these songs. The final image that was in my head, the one that got portrayed at the end, was just the night sky being kind of like a round bowling ball, and then the bowling ball just slowly falling down. Literally a nightfall [in reference to the song ‘NiGHTFALL’].
Abe: He’s kidding (laughter).

Are there any memorable moments during the recording or events relating to the concert film? 

Abe: For the movie, there are predetermined lines but a lot of it was improvisation. So while I was performing I was thinking about what the character would say during the performance, or what he would try to say to the audience. Or I would try to imagine what kind of things he would be thinking and what kind of things he would be saying. So it was a little different from our usual recording. I thought it was pretty challenging, but it was also very intriguing. Speaking from a viewer’s perspective, the show has its own opening and ending, but sometimes there are special endings. Sometimes different songs are used or different members will be performing different songs, and MEZZO” is no exception. There are some songs that MEZZO” would perform, especially during the episodes where MEZZO” is featured. When it’s their featured episode, watching the songs that they perform makes me a little bit emotional.

KENN: When I was recording the MC part of the live performance, it was a little different from our usual recording. It’s more realistic. The audience says (imitating shouting) ‘Thank you!’ When the other characters are talking, they say ‘I love you.’ It’s a voice that’s not on the microphone; it’s a dynamic voice with both loud and quiet sounds. I thought the dynamics between the two were impressive. When it comes to theater-related events, there are two types: first, where we come onstage, do a little greeting, and then show the movie, and second where we show the movie and then come on stage to do our greeting. For the first one, when we come up before the movie everyone is excited. They’ll cheer me on and everyone’s energy is very high. But when we come on stage after the movie, everyone is very emotional and they’re a little more heartfelt and left in their emotions. In those situations, when I say a joke, the response is a bit quiet. I thought that was a little sad. I’m so funny, so if even I say a joke and there’s no reaction to that, you can tell that IDOLiSH7 is a very well-produced, emotional movie.

What challenges would you like to take on in the future as the voice actors of IDOLiSH7


Abe: To put it simply I would like a third live. There are a lot of important people who have been announced that might be able to make that possible, but we went through all the idols, each individual idol, and they had their live performances. So for the third time, I’d like a live performance as a group. I’d like that to happen.

KENN: I’d like the entire cast of IDOLiSH7 to come to New York and do an event with all of us. And the Statue of Liberty King Pudding [King Pudding is an IDOLiSH7 mascot; a version dressed as the Statue of Liberty in the same design as the tin button above appeared at Anime NYC], I’d like to eat it with everyone. I think the Statue of Liberty King Pudding flavor is pizza or cheesecake flavor.

We’d like to thank KENN and Atsushi Abe for taking the time to speak to the press about all of the amazing work that has gone into the IDOLiSH7 franchise over the years. Should there ever be an event in New York with the entire cast, we’ll be sure to come running.


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