Colleen Clinkenbeard on the growth of the anime industry and female empowerment

Women’s History Month is almost over, but the work continues well beyond this month for every woman in the world. For artists, many have found themselves in an uphill battle as they pull out all the stops to break into an industry that is too often male-dominated. But after chatting with anime veteran Colleen Clinkenbeard, ComicBook is here to give actors an insight into how the industry is changing.

You can find our full discussion with Clinkenbeard below. And of course you can find the actress on Twitter here to get a behind-the-scenes look at his work.


Ask: First, thanks for taking the time to chat about Women’s History Month and anime. It’s hard to think of a more prolific talent in the US anime industry than you, Colleen! Can you explain how you first got into the industry and what you knew about anime then?

Colleen Beardbeard: Oh God. Thanks. I got into the industry around 2003 when my best friend (Laura Bailey from DBZ and Critical Role) took me into the studio to try to open the door for me, for which I am eternally grateful. I didn’t know anything about anime at the time, it’s not something I grew up watching or was aware of, and my first experiences with anime were cuddling with Laura in our apartment, watching Fruits Basket and Kodocha.

what: Did you face any challenges early in your career as a woman working on anime? How have you seen that change over the years as anime has grown? As a woman who covers anime journalism, I can only thank you and everyone else who has made the industry more accessible!

Clinkenbeard: I was extremely lucky to have Justin Cook as a mentor at Funimation. He is the person who gave me my first acting and directing roles, and he has been a big driver in promoting the female voice in Texas anime dubs. There was a definite sense of breaking into a male-dominated industry because when I started directing I was the only female director at Funimation (there was one before me for a brief period, but none currently employed and none very consistently), so I had to see how the studio accepted what that meant. Justin was fantastic as a producer in ensuring that he didn’t immediately tie me into all of the shojo anime, while male directors could direct the more popular sci-fi and shonen shows. I was never limited in that way, and I think it could have easily happened. But there were certainly new interpersonal relationships that we all had to feel as we grew up together in a coeducational study.

what: When it comes to roles you’ve done, the list goes on and on. One thing I find interesting among audiences unfamiliar with anime is how often female leads play the male leads in anime. Obviously you voice Luffy in One Piece and you nail every line. Do you have to have a different mindset when preparing to play Luffy compared to any woman you’ve ever played? Has voicing Luffy ever presented you with a challenge because he’s a kid?

Clinkenbeard: It’s interesting. Luffy is one of the most “free” roles I play. When he raises his voice and I start dubbing an episode, he feels very loose and uninhibited, and I rarely question my readings or choices. I’m not entirely sure if it’s because of how long I’ve voiced it (I questioned myself a lot at first) or if it’s because he’s a male character and therefore less restrained than a typical female character. Probably a mix of both. I long for the day when female characters with that kind of wild and carefree nature are more prevalent as main characters in anime.

what: Shonen anime is very popular in the United States, but the medium has stories for everyone. Women have their voices and interests expressed in tons of shojo/josei series. Do you think anime does a better job of catering to demographics than, say, television in the United States? How do you think the anime industry could do better?

Clinkenbeard: I think in more recent years the studios that create anime have done a better job of incorporating female voices into shonen anime and allowing shojo series to appeal to all viewers. I think that should be the direction we’re heading in. Not “male anime” and “female anime”, but anime with different flavors for each palette. The one thing I would like to see change even more is the treatment of female characters in anime of all genres. Female characters are often motivated by their desire to attract or support men, and rarely by their own motives and stories. They also tend to stay in the background, waiting to be rescued or fixed in some way. I would like to see more strength in the female characters we see in anime so that both girls and boys who watch anime as they get older can find things to admire in those characters, instead of looking to the male leads for inspiration. Obviously, there are exceptions to that rule!

what: Obviously, you do a lot of work on anime behind the scenes as an ADR director and stuff. How has your experience changed between working in the recording booth and the soundboard? Would you say this side of the industry is also embracing female talent and growth?

Clinkenbeard:I started directing when I entered my 16th episode of acting in the anime. And I started writing when I got into my second series. I grew up in this industry doing all the jobs at once, instead of spending years as an actor and then slowly going into production. So overall, I feel like my experience with the various production roles is pretty seamless. I don’t make much of a difference. It’s just a day in the life! I think the industry has embraced the female voice and female leadership with open arms over the last decade, and I never felt much pushback as more and more women take on production roles or become household names in dubbing. Unfortunately, he has been less than truthful in the fandom. There are some holdouts in the anime fan community who would like to keep anime as a male-dominated genre, made by and for men. I find that oftentimes it’s the male voice actors/directors/producers/writers who back down and make way for the women they work with. We have some amazing advocates among our co-workers and fellow cast members. Hopefully, as that mindset grows, it will start to flow into social media consciousness and become a way of life, rather than a topic of discussion.

Q: What is one of the most powerful things for women that you have found in anime and/or its community?

jingle beard Female directors in the media are absolutely what has changed this trend the most. There’s something about seeing a woman in charge of an IP you love that immediately forces you to respect her voice in a way you wouldn’t have to if she was just one of the cast. The slowest aspect of change in the industry was seeing women as a voice of authority: the idea that women can be experts in a field and established voices of knowledge on any given topic. That has taken some time, and I still see a lot of deferring to male opinion as definitive. Directors like Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, Wendee Lee, and female directors like Katheryn Bigelow and Patty Jenkins have paved the way for change.

Q: Do you have a female role model in the anime industry? Either a character or a colleague?

Clinkenbeard: Many! Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, Luci Christian, Laura Bailey, and fictional characters like Hana on Wolf Children.

Q: If you could suggest some female anime characters to look up to, who would you pick?

Clinkenbeard: Sailor Mars is still at the top of my list. Again, Hana in Wolf Children, Erza Scarlet in Fairy Tail, Tohru Honda in Fruits Basket, there are countless role models you can find, depending on what inspires you.

Q: And finally, do you have any advice for young women who want to work in the anime industry?

Clinkenbeard: Don’t pigeonhole yourself by saying you want to work in the anime industry! If you want to be an actor, act in anything you can find to act in! If you want to be in production, look for PA roles in all media! If you want to create, create your own content and find places to share it and people to create with. We are all here to tell stories and help others tell their stories. There are hundreds of ways to be a part of it, whether on Crunchyroll or elsewhere.

Which Clinkenbeard role is your favorite? Let us know your thoughts on him in the comments below!