Cromartie High School is a lot like a SHAFT production in that all of the money went to hiring a cast of immense talent leaving none for the animation, which is handled nicely by unique budget-cutting techniques. There are a number of vocal roles probably worth note, but none stands out like The Great Norio Wakamoto’s role as Mechazawa Shinichi.
It’s been said before that Norio Wakamoto is like the Christopher Walken of anime voice acting. For one thing, he’s been around forever. He’s known for his incredible voice (noted as being ‘incredibly sober’ and lampshaded in Cromartie) and the way he speaks with very drawn out syllables, sometimes in complete excess. It’s usually a very smooth and suave voice that can suddenly explode in violent and highly dramatic roars. One thing is for sure – his voice is noticeable instantly. Like Walken, he can do serious roles without a problem and is an amazing actor, but because his voice is so recognizable, he mostly ends up in parody roles – often which are written specifically for him to play. For one last similarity, Wakamoto has been in literally hundreds of productions.
Mechazawa is a rather unique and absolutely brilliant role in that it utilizes every single one of Wakamoto’s talents, and in fact there is even an episode whre he plays a different character seemingly just to ge the most out of his voice in a way they couldn’t with Mechazawa.
Mechazawa is a robot who everyone, including himself, thinks is human, wih the acception of two of the main characters who will never state such to him. Cromartie is a school entirely made up of badasses, so it’s natural that Mechazawa is meant to be a gangster type, but even as a badass he is multi-faceted. He cares a lot about his friends and always takes the fall for them when the heat turns up. He is brave, honest, and kind, but also inarguably badass (to about the extent anyone in the show is.) Wakamoto, as expected, captures all of these facets perfectly. His voice caries a feeling of leadership and honesty, but also of concern and true caring. He’s almost like a guidance councilor, only extremely manly and badass.
Oddly, Mechazawa is one of Wakamoto’s most emotive roles. There is a constant emotion just from his normal speech, but he also has his dramatic moments, enhancing the irony that the robot is the most emotional character in the show. You can really feel his hope or dispair to the point of hilarity. He also does a lot of awesome… vocal sound effects I want to call them? Such as a moment where I think someone was oiling him or something and he went ‘AH~!’ and it was just balls-out hilarious, simply because it was him.
In the second set of Mechazawa-centric episodes we sort of learn about his robotic mortality in that he is put into standby mode a couple of times, and we also learn about his potential family with the appearance of his ‘little brother,’ Mechazawa Beta. Beta as well as regular Mechazawa’s stanby messages are performed by Mika Kanai, who has been in a lot of shows, but I only know her as Satoko Houjou from Higurashi no Naku Koro ni. Her voice is almost like the opposite of Wakamoto’s – it’s high-pitched and very frentic. As Beta, she only utters one phrase over and over (‘mecha-watta’) and she says it in a super-adorable way that is positively drilled into your brain. I think it’s interesting how, like Wakamoto, her voice is pretty much instantly recognizable (in spite of only knowing one role by her, No Name and I pegged it within about 3 lines of dialog) but is also the total opposite of his.
The third set of Mechazawa-centric episodes has our poor friend transformed into a motorcylce. This is where we really see the shining force of Wakamoto’s well-known parody acting, as he actually performes the sounds of a motorcycle revving and driving. Let me tell you, that is the manliest fucking motorcycle of all time and I’d give anything to have a motorcycle that had Wakamoto’s voice. He summons all of his immense vocal power and violently shouts ‘dorroooon! doroooon! BADABADABADA!’ etc. It’s a hilarious performance that only Wakamoto could do, and works just because it’s him.
The 24th episode of Cromartie decides to do a dramatic homage about a father who owned a sushi shop and had grown distant from the son he always pressured to take over that has become a landshark. It’s a story of their coming together with the help of Cromartie’s resident gorilla. Wakamoto ends up playing the old ramen shop owner and delivers an unbelievably perfect dramatic performance. The total seriousness of his acting as the character really brings the episode around into being a totally believable drama plot, which in turn makes it that much more brilliant as an homage. I’d say his role in this episode is what seperated it from being just an average parody to a full-on perfect homage.
I’d certainly say that Wakamoto’s roles in Cromartie are some of my favroites of his, with Mechazawa sitting maybe just behing my favorite, the newspaper dude from Baccano. I look forward to seeing more and more of his continually awesome roles in the future (oh god, I’m going to have to watch legend of galactic heroes…). I’m also interested in seeing more work by Mika Kanai, if just because I have hear of so few of the shows in her large catalog (which always comes as a shock to me). Her voice took getting used to as Satoko, but in the end I came to love it. Now here’s a picture of Mechazawa in a funny Marimite parody.