If you’re a fan of English dubs, there’s a good chance you’ve heard Tara Sands’ voice before. Though she’s best known for her work on the Pokemon series and her roles as Mokuba Kaiba on Yu-Gi-Oh! and Biscuit on Hunter x Hunter, Ms. Sands’ filmography also includes such shows as Anohana, Digimon Adeventure Tri, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Little Witch Academia, Mew Mew Power, One Piece, One Punch Man, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Rurouni Kenshin, Sailor Moon, The Seven Deadly Sins, and Naruto Shippuden. She’s also responsible for voicing Sonya in Fire Emblem Echoes and Fire Emblem Heroes.
We sat down with Ms. Sands at this year’s Anime Boston to talk about her experience working on some of the industry’s most popular shows and her transition from New York to Los Angeles. Read on to discover the process behind bringing some of Pokemon‘s most recognizable creatures to life:
KeenGamer: Can you describe the differences between the Los Angeles and New York anime voice acting scenes?
Tara Sands: I was in New York at the beginning of the “anime boom.” The time was different, but I don’t think I can describe the scene as being different. It was a time when we didn’t know a lot about anime, and we were all getting into it for the first time alongside all the kids that were watching. We were learning with them.
Today in Los Angeles, people who grew up being fans of anime are now working in anime. They know more than we do. I’ll ask my younger voice actor friends about a show because they grew up with it. They have the advantage of knowing it better than us when we first started.
In terms of the scenes, there are slight differences in the way that scripts are prepared and which markings are used. It really all amounts to learning those little differences. The people are not different at all, though, and a lot of them are going back and forth between Los Angeles and New York now.
KeenGamer: When it comes to reprising your earlier New York roles, do you travel back to record? Have you ever had to use Source-Connect or dub remotely from a different location?
Tara Sands: When I left New York, I didn’t get to finish my role on Yu-Gi-Oh!. They did replace me for that because back then, they really did like to have you in the studio, face-to-face with the director. I did get to work on Dark Side of Dimensions, and they did let me do that from Los Angeles, which was really nice. They found a studio in LA where a couple of us got to record. At this point, all these New York voice actors are all over the place! To really have the original cast, they had to allow us to record wherever we were.
KeenGamer: You’ve done a lot of voices for Pokemon. What is the process behind bringing these creatures to life?
Tara Sands: When I originally started working on the show, I played a human. At the time, I had no idea what Pokemon really was. I went in to record the role of Melanie and while I was there, they had me try and sound like the Japanese voice of Bulbasaur, only I was instructed to say “Bulbasaur” instead of using the Pokemon’s original Japanese name. It was a challenge to get all the emotion down in just a name and a few sounds, but it became the best training I ever had. I had to get my point across with one word. Having dialogue was just a luxury after that.
Years later, I realized how important it was that each Pokemon didn’t speak. Each child or adult who watched could have their own interpretation of what they were saying. It was probably the same general idea, but it was in their own words as opposed to us giving the words to them.
KeenGamer: You voiced Sonya in Fire Emblem Echoes and Fire Emblem Heroes. What are your thoughts on the character?
Tara Sands: The experience was a lot of fun because Sonya has a deep, sultry voice and I don’t get to play those much. I was going through a run of playing a lot of little boy voices at the time. I didn’t know who I was playing when I got to the studio until after they played a Japanese voice reference. After hearing that, I was so excited that I was trusted to do something different.
It was a fun game to work on. We had the writers there and they knew a lot about the game. I was always filled in on what was happening, which is a luxury that we don’t normally have. It’s fun to see how it all turned out, because she’s nothing like me!
KeenGamer: You played the character Biscuit in Hunter x Hunter. When Biscuit reveals her true appearance in the Greed Island arc, she acknowledges how she doesn’t like the way she looks in that form. How did you interpret this going forward knowing that younger female anime viewers may watch the series?
Tara Sands: Biscuit has these great sides to her. She’s a girly girl to her bones. At the same time, she doesn’t like her true appearance, so a lot of her character is about being comfortable with aspects of herself that she doesn’t like. While she doesn’t find this other side of her attractive, she knows that it serves a great purpose. She could hide it away forever, but she still chooses to use it. I hope that was never misinterpreted.
Biscuit was a really fun character to play because she’s so three-dimensional. It was really fun when I got that arc, because I didn’t really know where I was going. I trusted the director to really guide me with the transformation. I had no idea how it was going to be handled, what her reaction was going to be, and Gon and Killua’s reactions. It’s one thing for her to feel a certain way about herself, but the boys are astonished by it too. They’re scared of it at first, but then they’re super impressed.
KeenGamer: For Digimon Adventure Tri, what was it like playing Kari, a character who already had a pretty well-established dub voice? Did you try to match the original English actress, the Japanese performance, or go with a mix of the two?
Tara Sands: It was a combo. We had the luxury of them aging quite a bit. A kid’s voice and that of a teenage are a bit different, but I knew she had a certain quality to her voice. I wanted to capture her spirit and attitude properly and also tried to figure out what she had been through in between the original show and Tri.
With Digimon, a lot of the personalities are based on relationships. Kari’s kinship with her brother means everything to her. Aside from that, the friendships remained intact during the time we didn’t see anything. That’s what I really focused on. We also had the luxury of having the director and producer of the original show work on Tri, so if there was anything I was missing, they were there to fill me in.
KeenGamer: Which of your voice acting roles have had the biggest impact on you?
Tara Sands: I learned so much when I worked on a show called Generator Rex. I got to work with superstars like John DiMaggio, Mark Hamill, J.K. Simmons, and Troy Baker. It was an amazing group of people that I got to learn from. Even with years of experience up until that point, I found out that there was still a lot more to learn. I felt so lucky to be there.
Digimon Adventure Tri is currently available on Crunchyroll. Thank you Anime Boston for the wonderful opportunity, and thank you The Cartoon Cipher for help with questions! Check out the channel’s latest April Fools’-themed episode on Ghost Stories here.