“Of all the characters I’ve done, Tai is the closest to me in terms of how I express myself and speak naturally in daily life,” American voice actor Joshua Seth explains over the phone. In a way, this is true. It’s uncanny how similar Seth sounds to the young DigiDestined when he talks; it’s almost like Tai has stepped out of the digital world and into the real world.
After leaving the voice-acting business in 2005 to pursue a career as a motivational speaker and real-life mentalist, Seth almost thought he’d never go back to a voice-recording booth but then Digimon Adventure tri came along. The project, created to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the franchise, sees the original team get back together at the end of their high-school days for another adventure. While the first two parts of tri have been released in Japan, with the third chapter incoming, the first, Digimon Adventure tri: Reunion, is about to come to cinemas in the US. Prior to its release on September 15, MyM Buzz joined Joshua Seth for a discussion about the franchise.
How did you approach Tai in Digimon Adventure tri now that he’s older? How was voicing the character different to how it was before?
“The key to the way that I voice him now was to consider that he’s wise beyond his years because of his life experiences. I discussed this with the production team, and asked if I should make him sound older. You’ll notice that my normal voice isn’t that far from Tai, I just pitch it up a little bit when I do him but it’s still me.
“So we discussed it, and talked about whether I should use my voice as it naturally is, but then we decided that we should stay true to the characterisation of Tai so you’ll notice that his voice is very similar to how it was before. The main difference is that I made his expressions more thoughtful, that wasn’t just me it was in the text as well. That’s the way the character has evolved; he ponders the larger meaning of whether what they are doing is actually beneficial and is grappling with larger issues from a more mature perspective. So that’s really what changed.”
One of the most important parts of the movie is that all the characters have grown up, and we see that Tai is a little more hesitant now. How was that for you, going into a character that originally was so eager to jump in and is now more reserved?
“I loved it as an actor because there are only so many ways you can say, ‘Come on guys let’s save the world!’ Being able to go into the full depth and breadth of human emotion is more interesting as an actor, so the fact that he is a bit older, a little more reserved, and a little more pensive makes him a more interesting character. As humans we all start out as wide-eyed and innocent and are all gung-ho, then over time we get life experiences and they colour our perceptions of the world and makes us more complex as a result.”
What do you think of Tai’s development since the original series and how he feels about putting the world at risk?
“Putting people at risk is the core of his character. That’s why he’s a hero: he tackles the problem and he’s willing to take action, putting himself at risk to save others. You know, foolhardy, but not destructive of others. That’s the core of who he is.”
Digimon Adventure tri is the first film of the franchise to be shown in cinemas. How do you feel about that?
“Yeah, I was unsure; I didn’t know it was going to be released theatrically. But hey, it’s the best way to experience this. I am hoping fans will dress up and have parties. I can guarantee they’d have a better time if they did so!”
What are your thoughts on how the franchise has evolved?
“Well I’m very happy that it has evolved. Back when Digimon first came out there wasn’t online streaming or Netflix. When we finished recording an episode we all thought that it was one and done. It would air on Saturday mornings and I remember recording the video game and of course the movie; that was the trajectory as far as anyone knew. We thought that the series would come out on DVD or maybe video back then, and then it would be over. But because of the internet it was given new life, new audiences, people watched it for nostalgic reasons and to reconnect with their childhood.
“People come up to me all the time at my live shows and say, “Dude you were the voice of my childhood.” They are watching it for nostalgia, but there’s a new generation of kids that have been introduced to Digimon now because they have been able to stream it online or get it on DVD. More products are being produced now as well, so I hope the franchise will continue to evolve. Look at what we have now with Pokemon Go. Why shouldn’t Digimon come back into the broader public consciousness in the same way and have its own space? These old shows don’t need to die anymore; they can find new life and new audiences and new formats.”
With how long the franchise has gone on, did you actually think they would ever bring the original cast back again to tell one more story?
“They probably wouldn’t have come back to the original cast if it wasn’t for the fans. I wouldn’t have known this was even happening if it wasn’t for people letting me know on Facebook and Twitter about the film. I literally would not have known because I’m not in that world anymore. I’m in the live touring world, so I definitely have the fans to thank for getting me reconnected with this project. The producers were really on board with me and everyone else returning and it keeps the show’s integrity. Digimon is not just about the storyline or the animation; it’s also about the voices and I think it’s great that some people were able to come back.”
How did it feel getting back together with some of the original cast members?
“It’s great. There are even more people than you guys know about because there are so many people behind the scenes who have returned. It was wild, especially because I don’t live in LA anymore. A lot of people bump into each other on the streets there, but I don’t. I’m going to be in six different states in the next seven days doing live shows and none of them are California. So each time I saw someone I was so surprised and really happy. They looked different but sounded the same. That’s the funny thing about voice actors – you age like anyone else but we are so vocally expressive that we really feel and sound like the same. It was a really special thing.
“I will give you a little extra insight here as well. Even though Laura Jill Miller, who played my little sister, didn’t come back for this particular project we were texting while I was out there and we met up. It was really nice to reconnect and see that our friendship was as strong as ever.”
You mentioned you stepped back from this world but you’re now getting back into it with tri. There seems to have been a market change and it’s coming across as a kids property which it didn’t feel like before. What is your interpretation of this type of marketing?
“If you’re referring to the tri movie, I don’t see that as being regressive in terms of the age of people it appeals to. Now, if you are referring to the series and marketing then that’s something different, and that’s because Hollywood has woken up to the fact that children’s programmes are one of the biggest markets that there is. Kids are insatiable and watch so many mediums, so Hollywood wants to pull that market in with any kind of anime or property. But I don’t feel that Digimon pulled any punches to accommodate younger viewers; I just feel that that’s where the money is.”
Are you open to doing any non-Digimon-based voice projects in the future?
“You know, if you’d asked me that a year ago I would have probably had a hard time saying yes, since I’m having so much fun with my other projects and touring. It was surprising for me that going back into the recording studio felt like I had never left. Being all charged up and feeling great, that this was a thing I like to do and people seem to think I’m good at it. It almost seemed like a shame not to do it. I have this skill, and people want me to use it so why don’t I do it?
“I’m a lot more open to it now. The logistics of me actually getting to LA to do a project is a little more complicated. These show tours I do are very complicated and mean I’m flying in and out of cities every day. Even trying to find time to eat and sleep is difficult. But if the right offer came along, and I could fit it into my touring schedule in the right way, then I would be really down for that.”
The dub of Digimon had a lot of original music that was great, and the Japanese music was also good. From the trailer of the new film you can tell that there will be more original music there. How do you feel about it, and does it keep the spirit of the original dub?
“In my mind, since I haven’t seen the Japanese dub, when I heard the music I was surprised that I didn’t hear the original Digimon theme tune from the English dub! The more time I spent with the project, though, the more I liked the new music. Everything about it has evolved – the characters have evolved, the situation has evolved, we as an audience have evolved – and by changing the music it’s kind of a new start. I ended up really liking it and felt it was the right choice.”
What would you say is the appeal of voice acting as opposed to your other creative pursuits?
“It’s so peaceful; it’s such a pure, creative, emotional expression. You take all your communicative skill sets as a performer and then channel them through this one mode of expression which is your voice. So with on-camera acting you can use your body language, but I’ve always found voice acting so pure because you can’t do that. You have to find some way to communicate your heart and soul with your hands tied behind your back, and I’ve always thought that some restrictions and limitations make creative people better. In a way, voice acting restricts you so much that you really have to bring everything to the table so it doesn’t sound hackneyed, stilted, flat, or derivative of other people’s performances. I like having the opportunity to rise to that challenge.”
Can we expect you back for even more Digimon Adventure tri?
“It will be seen – it’s not entirely up to me. I had a blast recording this and as always I’m open to continuing to portray Tai and am happy to come back and do the whole thing again.”
Interview by Roxy Simons