APAHM 2020: Spotlight on Erika Ishii
For the month of May in 2020, I wanted to showcase a few Asian Pacific American creators and artists for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM). There are a number of amazing APA people out there that I wish I had the chance to meet and interview. With that being said, I am truly excited for you all to get to know the individuals we are privileged to highlight this month. For our last guest, I am excited to bring you all a conversation with Erika Ishii.
To be honest, I can’t even remember when I first heard about Erika because it feels like I’ve always been a fan of hers. It might have been her work from her early Twitch streams of playing horror games or her voice as Amanda in Dream Daddy, or her storytelling as Annabelle on LA By Night. Everything she’s done, she’s brought beautiful and creative stories, using her platform to share narratives that we don’t often get to see in mainstream media. She’s a bad ass (who could swing a mean sword!) with a killer sense of geeky fashion. It’s always been a goal of mine to have a chat with Erika and I’m eager for you all to get to know her.
[Please note: some responses below may have been edited for clarity purposes due to the nature of this profile.]
Erika Ishii started her career in entertainment as a child actor. Partway through, however, she stopped doing that and moved over to theatre. Later on, she wanted to try voiceover which required a different skillset compared to the work she did on-camera. So she started off with private lessons and coaching, and then hosting and playing games online. All of that rose together for her simultaneously, allowing her to get her foot in the industry. From her own personal experience, she credits playing The Last of Us in inspiring her to specifically pursue voice acting for video games. She saw it as a new medium for narratives and storytelling that was forming right before our very eyes.
Like I said earlier, I remember first learning about Ishii from her Twitch streams. She actually began doing that with Geek & Sundry through a very curious (and magical) means. With her Harry Potter improv group, Ishii’s coach learned that she enjoyed video games and invited her to host a YouTube show. While the channel never really took off, Ishii credits the opportunity for expanding her skillset and network. This also occurred simultaneously with her meeting and hanging out with the folks of Critical Role, who asked Ishii to guest with Geek & Sundry. With time, hard work, and dedication, Ishii went from guest to regular host to becoming one of the faces of the channel!
During the interview, I also asked Ishii to share about what it’s like to be a woman of color in this industry. For her, pursuing on-camera was difficult because only certain roles were available. It was difficult and rare to pursue roles that were personality-based and frustrating to never be considered as “just American.” But at times, she’s also beginning to see some changes in the industry. Now, she’s able to go for on-camera auditions that have many more role options for her that are exciting and that she feels she’s right for–that these roles aren’t simply a diversity box for the production to simply tick off.
On the flip side, with voice acting, she appreciates how freeing this has been for her. She’s able to be literally anyone she wants, stating that she’s voiced young boys, old grandmothers, tough and hot chicks, etc. Of course, there are still a lot of rules for diversity where appropriate casting is important. To some degree, one’s ethnicity does make an impact in voiceover–representation still matters. In this industry, though, Ishii is grateful to have been cast in a number of diverse roles.
One of my biggest passions in geekdom is TTRPGs (table-top roleplaying games), and Ishii is a star in this area. The first ever tabletop game she played was in 2002 with Dungeons & Dragons 3.0 (for those keeping track, D&D is now on its fifth edition). After a friend handed her the player’s handbook, sharing that it seemed like something she would enjoy, Ishii was hooked. As with most D&D campaigns (and all my fellow D&D enthusiasts would agree with me), finding a dungeon master can be challenging. This was the case for Ishii when she first started, so she and her friends would just make characters together. It wasn’t until about a year or so later before she finally had a chance to get into the action. It was everything she wanted: fantasy, imagination, acting, storytelling, and quality time with her friends.
Now, alongside her voice acting, Ishii is able to play TTRPGs for a living. She has since expanded on her early D&D days, playing a variety of other exciting games and telling interesting stories with fleshed out characters. She’s able to craft interesting and different characters every sing time with other characters that she’s never seen or imagined before. It’s this creativity and collaboration that really pushes and stretches the depths of imagination. To Ishii, this isn’t just a job. This is an opportunity for her to be the storyteller she always wanted to be and to tell the stories she’s wanted to see in the world. It’s a thrill to play with people she trusts who are also amazing storytellers and actors from all around the world. She expressed that it’s difficult to describe the trust that exists and the level of skill and creativity at those tables; it’s mind-blowing, really! Ishii is grateful to the game masters and players for games and sessions that help build her characters and develop them in this new and exciting medium of storytelling. And with the characters she creates, Ishii puts herself in every role she plays, and the fact that her characters touch other people means the world to her.
Personally, I had to share with Ishii how much her characters have meant to me specifically. Some of the characters she’s created include Annabelle from LA by Night, Hanako Hayashi from Call of Cthulhu: Shadow of the Crystal Palace, and Sasha Murasaki from Cinderbrush: A Monsterhearts Story. The representation has always meant so much to me. And as Ishii shares how she’s inspired by other storytellers and what they create, that is exactly how I feel anytime I experience the stories she tells.
Pivoting now to a topic that may seem like an obscure thing to ask Ishii about, but one look through her social media, and you’ll understand why I just had to talk to her about her fashion. Growing up, Ishii didn’t think that she was into fashion because she thought she was supposed to dress in a certain way. But once she realized she could wear whatever she wanted, every day was an opportunity for a fun costume-y outfit if she so chose. Now, she wears what she wants when she wants, and she’s thankful to have a job that allows for that expression.
Some recent and upcoming projects that Ishii shared with me include an indie film directed by Jenn Ravenna Tran And Then. The kickstarter for this girl-meets-girl project has already been funded. Set in Tokyo, Tran captures a narrative of a serendipitous meeting that bring two women together “through insomnia, exploring a new city, art, and belonging.” The project is currently undergoing post-production. Ishii first heard about this film from director Ravenna’s Twitter post seeking actors in Japan. After commenting on the tweet about how cool the project appeared, Ishii received a message from Ravenna if she’d be interested. From there, they worked together in Japan on this beautiful passion project that Ravenna had poured a lot of heart and dedication into.
You can also catch Ishii in Destiny 2, and she is excited and grateful to be a part of the team as Ana Bray. If you’re also interested in drama and vampires, you can also find her in LA By Night as Annabelle, with the most recent season now out for viewing.
Given recent events, Ishii has collaborated with Void Merch to sell shirts “Yellow Peril Supports Black Lives Matter.” All proceeds go toward Black Visions in Minnesota as well as the Minnesota Freedom Fund.