Sing a Bit of Harmony is Funimation’s latest anime movie that’s been impressing critics and fans since releasing in Japan in October 2021. Directed by Yasuhiro Yoshiura, the film follows a disguised AI named Shion who tries desperately to make the loner high school student Satomi happy by using catchy songs and friendship. In celebration of Sing a Bit of Harmony’s international release, we got the chance to talk to the English language voice actors for the dubbed version of the film – Megan Shipman and Risa Mei.
Set in a near-future version of Japan with robots wandering around, Sing a Bit of Harmony is beautifully animated and a wholesome story. Shipman (Attack on Titan) voices Shion, the AI experiment that infiltrates a high school to complete her ultimate mission – make Satomi happy. Mei (Genshin Impact) portrays Satomi in the animated movie, the protagonist of the finger-snapping film who is desperate to keep Shion’s identity secret in order to protect her mom’s job at a robotics company.
In our interview with Shipman and Mei, we discuss what goes into recording a dub for anime, the similarities between Sing a Bit of Harmony and Disney, and unpack why this film has already made so many waves in the award circuit.
The Digital Fix: Hello. How are you guys?
Risa Mei: Good. Thank you. How are you doing?
I’m good. Thanks. So I love Sing a Bit of Harmony. I thought it was very sweet, very wholesome, very touching. It’s also won quite a lot of awards already. Why do you think that so many people are drawn to the story?
Megan Shipman: I think it’s a very universal kind of story. Even though there’s these elements of things that maybe, you know, are a little more advanced or technologies are more advanced, and we don’t have things quite like that. I think the idea behind wanting to belong and fit in and have your kind of group of people who understand you is universal. Like that is a feeling that I think everyone has felt. And so I think that’s why it probably leaves such a mark on when you watch it, and it makes it kind of memorable.
Yeah. Speaking about your character, Shion, there were some scenes where you didn’t have any music at all. And you were just singing.
MS: Oh yeah [laughs].
What was that like, recording like that? Was it a little bit awkward?
MS: It was interesting because I recorded my dialogue and my music separately. So even in the parts, like when she just kind of breaks out into song randomly, we kind of didn’t do that while we were doing the dialogue. But we were like, ‘and then she sings here. Moving on.’ [laughs]
Then I would revisit it after the fact when we were doing the music with Brina. And so yeah, it was really fun, because then you really got to focus on making it like perfect, and wonderful, and spontaneous sounding even though it’s not spontaneous for me, because I know I’m doing it. But it was really, really fun. Just getting to do a character like Shion who just has… I like to say that she has no social cues, but like in a very lovable way. She means the best. So yeah, it was fun. It was really fun.
Risa, your character Satomi. I think that she is probably the most relatable character in the whole film.
Yeah, especially for high school girls; I feel you can all relate to that moment. What do you think young women especially will feel when they see Satomi on screen?
RM: I think that they…Well, as you were saying, they’ll definitely find her relatable. She’s very, very hardworking. And she’s very, very family-oriented. You know? She loves her mom. Well, she loves taking care of the house and the family. So I think that, yeah, I think that a lot of young women growing up, especially the younger younger crowd, might be struggling with fitting in society as well as fitting in with friend groups. And so I think they’ll be able to see part of themselves in her.
Yeah, definitely. Besides your work with film, you also voice a character in the videogame Genshin Impact.
RM: I do!
I’ve always wanted to know, is there any difference when you’re doing voice work for videogames as opposed to film?
RM: Yeah, definitely. I feel like in videogames…well, I feel like it changes across the different genres of film as well. And you know what style it is. Because even when you say film, it depends on what type of film if it’s a live-action dub, if it’s like an animation, they’re very, very different, and then even videogames depending on what type of videogame. Like The Last of Us, I probably wouldn’t be treating that the same way I would treat like Genshin Impact, you know. [laughs] Although I’m not in The Last of Us…but, yeah, they’re very different.
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I feel like, especially with Genshin Impact borrowing from anime themes. There’s definitely a similarity in performances between recording for a type of video game like that, and then something like Sing a Bit of Harmony. But also kind of In that respect, Sing a Bit of Harmony is also a little bit more grounded with performances. And then the same thing with Genshin Impact because it also depends on which enemies you are talking about in the game. Some enemies, which are a little bit more comedic, like you will exaggerate a little bit more. So yeah, there are many similarities and definitely a couple of differences.
Speaking about anime and anime genres, Shion and Satomi both have a soft spot for shoujo anime. Now I want to know, especially from you, Megan, how did you prepare for that considering Shion’s extreme personality? Did you watch any shoujo anime yourself? I know you’ve previously voiced for Attack on Titan, and Fairy Tail – which aren’t really in that genre wheelhouse.
MS: Oh yeah! Well, I’m a huge nerd, to begin with. I love anime. And I really love watching idol shows, and I love watching magical girl shows. Those are the things I’m always drawn to because they’re pretty to look at. They’re fun. You don’t have to think very hard about them. And sometimes, they have some fun themes that are really emotional. And so I already like stuff like that.
I remember when I got the audition sides for Shion I, I said to myself, I was like, ‘she just sounds like a Disney princess.’ Like she immediately just reminded me of this magical princess where nothing could go wrong, and everything’s wonderful. It was really funny to me because it reminded me a lot of the Disney movie, Enchanted that came out. Yeah, she just like pops up in New York, and she’s like, ‘hello’. And everyone’s like, ‘whoa, she is so weird.’ Because it’s like, so not normal, but it’s not bad. It’s just usually people aren’t that happy and trusting. So it puts people off but not in a bad way. But rather, they react to her like,’ Oh, that’s weird.’ But yeah, I immediately got that kind of a vibe from her.
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When I read the audition for Shion, I was like, ‘Oh, she’s so clueless. I love her.’ She is just like, ‘hi, hi, how are you?’ She pops around, and she just wants to help, and you have to accept her like, ‘oh, okay, well, you’re gonna help even if they don’t want you to help’.
So yeah, it was really fun reading for her because it’s so funny having a character that’s so happy and that doesn’t understand ‘Oh, that’s too much’. But then having her in this movie, where everyone else is very real and grounded, and their reads were very grounded, was also fun.
I was just, ‘hi! Hi!’ like a golden retriever or something. I didn’t have to necessarily make it sound… I guess real innocence because her reality is happy all the time. Like she’s had 12 cups of coffee or something. It was pretty fun getting to act off of people.
Yeah, this film is very fun. And I think there’s a lot of joy, especially in the very serious moments as well. It just made me very happy watching it. And I wanted to know, what were your favourite bits to record in this film?
MS: I think for me because I started as a singer, I have a music degree, and all that stuff, so anytime I get to work on music is great. I’ve worked on music a lot at Funimation. I’ve been really lucky that I’ve worked with Brina [Palencia] (the movie’s English ADR song director) on adapting things as well. But anytime I get to actually like sing the things that we adapt, it’s like really, really fun.
So just all of the songs are really fun, and, no spoilers, but there’s a lot of stuff at the end. There were some songs and moments at the end that were really fun to do. That I think they turned out beautiful. And also just the moments in the acting. There’s heartfelt moments and also really hilarious moments, even at the very, very end, and it’s really fun. That’s what I loved about doing it.
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RM: Yeah, and I loved jumping in and listening in to what everybody else has done, like with their lines. Because sometimes you know, it’s totally unexpected, you’ll hear it in the Japanese and then all of a sudden the English comes up, and you’re just like,’ oh that’s way too perfect.’ So, both the sub and the dub are quite amazing to watch both kind of in their own respects.
So yeah, and then also again to like touch on the music, because I also grew up with a musical background, also have a musical degree, and coming in and then being able to listen to some of the songs while previewing the clips, it was it’s so beautiful. It’s so moving, and I feel like music is transcendental. It crosses languages. It’s borderless. It was really, really nice to experience that while recording.
Thank you so much. It was lovely meeting both of you. And I can’t wait for everyone to see this film.
Sing a Bit of Harmony is out in theatres now in the US, and is set to release in the UK on January 28.