By Jin Kiyokawa / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterVoice actress and singer Sumire Uesaka not only charms fans with her cute image, she is also known for her broad range of interests — from Russia and the former Soviet Union, tanks and pro wrestling, to old Japanese pop songs, metal rock and kawaii fashion. She showcases her encyclopedic knowledge with witty retorts.
She describes herself as “just very lopsided,” saying, “It’s only that I have nothing to say about everyday life.” However, her seemingly outrageous interests have attracted fans from various genres, at a time when hobbies and personal pursuits are subdivided into many smaller segments.
In September, the 25-year-old Uesaka — affectionately called Sumipe by her fans — gave a spirited performance at the rock festival Natsu no Mamono (Summer monsters) in Kawasaki. Dressed like a white fox yokai specter, she didn’t look like someone performing at a music festival for the first time.
When she finished singing a song under the burning sun, Uesaka received a glass of water from a member of the festival’s staff. “Oh, thank you so much! Let me drink it ... it’s warm!” Her verbal jab sounded deadly after her sweet thanks.
Uesaka often makes remarks that are surprisingly dark-humored for her adorable looks, which is why she’s popular not only among anime fans but also fans of other subcultures.
Uesaka was invited to appear on “Tamori Club” on TV Asahi in July when the popular late-night show, emceed by veteran TV personality Tamori, featured tongue twisters in foreign languages.
“I appeared on the show by mistake,” she said. “Mr. Tamori turned out to have beautiful skin.”
Uesaka is from Kanagawa Prefecture and joined an entertainment agency at age 9 after being scouted, but she was not enthusiastic about it.
“I hated standing in front of cameras,” she recalled. “I felt I had to go [to shooting sessions] because my mom told me to.”
As a girl, Uesaka was very shy around other people, and couldn’t ask even her family when she wanted to watch TV at home. This made it hard for her to join her classmates when they talked about their favorite pop stars at the girls school she was attending.
“The standard of what I thought was cool became more and more different from what others thought,” she said.
The young Uesaka would play video games or use computers on her own, while beginning to read books and manga from her father’s bookshelves, such as hard-boiled gekiga “Golgo 13,” mysteries by Edogawa Ranpo and Gothic fantasies by Kyusaku Yumeno.
Uesaka idolized singer-voice actress Haruko Momoi, who inspired her interest in otaku geek culture, as Momoi was promoting it at that time. Uesaka began visiting Nakano Broadway shopping complex in Nakano Ward, Tokyo, known as a center for otaku because it is home to many shops on manga, anime and subculture. She would purchase CDs there by artists who rose to fame before she was born, such as the Yellow Magic Orchestra, Kinniku Shojotai (King-Show) and more old-fashioned pop singers from the Showa era (1926-89).
Uesaka also developed a fascination with tanks and other military-related objects, through which she happened to hear the national anthem of the former Soviet Union when she was in the first year of high school.
“It really thrilled me,” she said. “I thought it was one-of-a-kind music, unlike something recent or from the past.”
The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the year Uesaka was born. She seems to have been intrigued by both a country that did not feel real and the sounds of the valiant Russian lyrics in the anthem.
During her high school days, she was offered by her entertainmant agency several career paths to choose from, such as an actress, model or TV personality. She picked up voice acting because “I can play something that lives in the world of fantasy, such as an incredibly cute creature or a witch,” she said.
Uesaka made her major voice acting debut in 2012, and she has taken part in such TV anime as “Idol Master — Cinderella Girls” and “Kantai Collection — KanColle” (Fleet Girls Collection). She received an increasing number of jobs while attending Sophia University’s department of Russian studies in Tokyo.
“I never went to a specialist voice acting school, so I’ve always had an inferiority complex regarding my articulation and other basics,” Uesaka said. “I felt nervous because I thought I was a step or two behind the others.
“However, I also found it hard to catch up with university studies if I skipped one lecture. It was tough juggling studies and voice acting, but I really wanted to do both,” she added.
As a singer, Uesaka released her first CD in 2013, and her first album was ranked ninth on the Oricon weekly music charts.
Last month, she released a new CD with three songs, “Kanojo no Genso EP” (Her fantasies EP).