Brina Palencia: The Return of One Piece and Voice Acting During A Pandemic

The anime industry has grown exponentially in recent years. While there is still the occasional debate over “subs versus dubs,” companies like Funimation have pushed dubbed anime into the mainstream and shown what can be accomplished. Funimation has worked hard to bring as many important anime series to the public as possible, many of which include more recent phenomena like My Hero Academia or series that have been a fixture of anime for decades, like One Piece. 

Brina Palencia plays Tony Tony Chopper on One Piece, a beloved and important character, but she’s also a welcome presence in other series, like her work as Mineta in My Hero Academia. Palencia reflected on the dedicated fan base around One Piece, the surprising reception to a random Dragon Ball character, and what it was like to finish My Hero Academia’s latest season during a pandemic.

Den of Geek: The news that new One Piece dubbed episodes are coming really caused a stir on the internet. What has it been like working on that series because I imagine the schedule is a little atypical?

Brina Palencia: For sure. We’ve been doing One Piece for just so long that any time that we go back to record really does feel like coming back home, even if that sounds super cheesy. I know that character so well and I adore him so much. It’s just like snuggling in with an old friend. It’s awesome and he’s got great stuff coming. 

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The approach for One Piece seems to be to release the episodes in big batches. How far ahead have you actually recorded? Have you been steadily recording for a while now, or did it only just resume?

We’re a little further ahead and we’re definitely working as fast as we can, which has been slowed down due to COVID-19. Something that also gets overlooked with a show like One Piece is just the level of vocal fatigue. All of the members of the Straw Hats just scream like crazy. Every episode we’re screaming! So for some shows you can just do four-hour sessions every day and you’ll be fine, but One Piece is not like that. You definitely have to alternate between how you record. With all of that being said, we’re definitely trying to get out as much as we can and as quickly as possible!

You voice Mineta in My Hero Academia, which saw its most recent season get impacted by COVID-19. What has the process been like to record at home?

Funimation has been pretty incredible—and I don’t know if other studios are also operating this way—but they’re going all out with helping people set up studios at home, making sure our areas are properly padded for sound and everything, and even lending out gear. It could have been a much more traumatic experience, but I’ve been so impressed and grateful for how Funimation has handled all of this. It’s been incredible.

It’s kind of amazing to see how you guys are still able to work through these conditions. Even the convention that you guys are doing is very unconventional, but it’s a really nice opportunity and event.

I think it’s really neat. In times like these you can see where a lot of companies stand on things like humanity, for example. I think Funimation has done a great job, whether it’s with their talent or their fans, during all of this. There’s so much content that’s gone into this virtual convention, which is entirely free, and just something for the fans. There’s a lot of passion and integrity coming from them right now.

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You touched on My Hero Academia, but how did the whole situation with recording dialogue for the new video game, One’s Justice 2, come about? Originally there wasn’t a dub for it and then it just dropped in a surprise update.

I don’t know anything about the licensing, other than that I wasn’t able to talk about recording any dialogue for it until the game was actually out. It was a lot of fun to record.

You voiced Arale from Dr. Slump in one Dragon Ball Super episode, but was it rewarding to get to voice a character who has such a reputation, even if it’s just for a small appearance?

Arale, yeah! I actually played her in a bunch of the Dragon Ball Z games, too, which is technically where I originated as the character. So then when the episode came around in Dragon Ball Super, they let me reprise it. I also got to adapt the lyrics to the theme song and sing the theme, which was so much fun. That was a really fun episode. 

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I actually got to learn so much about Arale and Dr. Slump‘s history when I was adapting the theme song. I wanted to make sure that I was doing it justice, doing it right, and not losing anything in the translation. So I did a whole lot of research on Dr. Slump. It’s such a cute premise!

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You’ve voiced so many fun characters in a lot of popular series, but are there any roles that really stand out for you?

All of the characters we’ve discussed are very close to me, but one in particular that I have a very fond spot in my heart for is Ciel Phantomhive from Black Butler. It was technically really complicated because I’m voicing a boy, but also doing the Queen’s English accent. Then on top of that it’s just emotionally a very rough ride. He goes through so much strife and it’s so intense. As an actor you always want a role that will challenge you like that and Ciel was definitely challenging. I had a blast doing it. I’m sure there are people screaming who are reading this that are like, “What about this character!?” I assure you, I adore them all, but Ciel is just the easiest one for me to go to and explain why.

Lastly, what are some other characters that you wish that you could have gotten to play over the years?

I’m asked this a lot and obviously in acting you’re losing roles more commonly than you’re getting them. 95% of the profession is rejection. So there are plenty of previous roles I’ve gone up for and would have liked to have done, but none of them stay with me. It’s not easy, but it’s important to just try and get auditions out of your mind, just because of the nature of the business. It’s such a rare and great opportunity when you get to work on the projects that you’re interested in, so I’ve been extremely lucky and I’m deeply grateful for the roles that I’ve gotten. 

You all makes these roles so distinctly your own in various ways that it’s almost impossible to think of how someone else would approach a character.

That’s really true! There are definitely roles that I’ve auditioned for that then when I hear the final product I’m like, “Oh, that’s not at all what I did.” Everyone’s got a different flavor.

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One Piece and My Hero Academia are both available to stream on Funimation.com

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