Kicking off Anime Expo Day 0, Chillin’ with Voice Actors returned to Petree Hall with an all-star cast for an hour and a half of moderated Q&A and a cold read of the debut episode of the classic Flash Gordon radio serial. Featuring a lineup of voices that should be familiar to many Toonami fans, the panel showcased the talents of Jamieson Price (Big O, Eureka Seven, Lupin the 3rd Part IV), Abby Trott (Gundam Iron-Blooded Orphans, Hunter x Hunter, One Punch Man), Keith Silverstein (Gundam The Origin, Hunter x Hunter, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure), Dave B. Mitchell (Gundam Unicorn, Aggretsuko, Dead Or Alive 6), Mona Marshall (Naruto, Blue Exorcist, Cowboy Bebop), Frank Todaro (Sword Art Online: Alicization, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Hunter x Hunter), Jason Marnocha (Megalobox, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Hells), and Karen Strassman (Kill la Kill, Hellsing Ultimate, Gurren Lagann).
Cast and moderated by Jeff Burns (Sword Art Online, Gundam Iron-Blooded Orphans), Chillin’ is in its 5th year, having appeared at a number of cons around California, including multiple stints at Anime Expo. My first experience with it was at SacAnime in Sacramento, CA, and the panel has come far since then, with a variety of scripts performed by an even wider variety of voice talent, including some themed panels, like the all-women incarnation from LA Comic Con in 2017.
While this year’s panel got off to a late start due to some struggles with entry into the convention, Jeff and the cast were undeterred and dove right into the moderated Q&A. This has always been a high point of the panel for me as Jeff, having as much insight to the working side of the craft as he does the fan side, poses questions that get a little more into the backgrounds of the actors and their booth experience and open the door to the audience to “peer inside the booth” a bit. These questions aren’t the same old fan questions that anyone who has attended more than one VA Q&A has heard countless times over, giving things a fresh feel. Questions like best and worst booth experiences were insightful and entertaining, which is a must for keeping the audience engaged in the leadup to the second half of the panel.
It’s after this Q&A that the door to the booth gets flung wide open as the scripts are handed out giving the cast their roles and, in some cases, special direction for their part. As a cold read, the cast hasn’t had the opportunity to review or rehearse their assigned part and perform on the fly in a very improvisational style. This is a highlight for me as we not only get to watch actors who we know and love perform the craft that we love them for, but they get to create their own version of their character for us as they go, resulting in deviations from the script, silly voices, or random sound effects, all of which come together into a one-of-a-kind experience.
The Flash Gordon script chosen for this year’s AX panel is one that has been performed before and is the same script I saw performed the first time I attended the panel at SacAnime several years ago. If the panel had a consistent cast, this might make repeat attendance a bit uninteresting, but thanks to the ever-changing roster of actors, even repeat scripts feel like a brand-new experience. Every actor brings a different interpretation and voice to the characters, and in a world where redubs of shows like Evangelion are constantly being compared to their original counterparts, these repeat scripts deliver a similar experience without nostalgia goggles clouding the judgment of the performances. The previously mentioned special directions also gave us the chance to experience Mona Marshall’s enormous range when she was asked to change up the voice she did for each new line as the narrator, and we got a taste of Karen Strassman’s French background with the request that she perform her role as Dale Arden with a French accent. I don’t want to spoil too much for anyone who might want to see the reading for themselves but suffice it to say, it’s an absolute blast.
This is definitely the kind of panel that would be great to see other conventions adopt to shake up programming that has gotten stale, especially to draw in former attendees with new, fresh material. I would certainly urge convention organizers that are interested in this sort of a panel to reach out to Jeff and for people who might want to see this to request it at your favorite convention because it truly is a lot of fun.
If you’re interested in seeing the panel for yourself or you missed it and want to check it out, Jeff’s YouTube and Twitch profiles offer a recording of the panel along with some of the past panels as well. When possible, these panels are live-streamed so that you can enjoy the panel from home if you can’t make it out to whatever convention is hosting it, so follow @JEFFBM on Twitter for panel announcements and live-stream links, and visit the link below for the recordings of this year’s Chillin’ and be sure to keep an eye out here at Toonami Squad for more panel and event reviews and interviews from Anime Expo 2019!
Photos courtesy of David Lopez, Optical Viewfinder Photography.