It hasn’t been a terribly long wait since the most recent TV anime adaptation of the legendary and long-running JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure manga aired. Part 5 of the series, Golden Wind (黄金の風), finished up its 39-episode run in 2019. And yet, for Jojo fans, the two-year wait on news of the 6th series has been nothing if not interminable.
Now, finally, Araki Hirohiko’s multigenerational fantasy-action opus is continuing in animated form; JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 6: Stone Ocean is officially under production. Alongside this exciting news came the equally intriguing announcement of the voice actress who will be portraying Jolyne Cujoh (so far the only female lead among the 8 “JoJos” who star in their respective arcs). Meet Fairouz Ai (ファイルーズ あい).
The announcement came during the “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure the Animation Special Event ~JOESTAR Inherited Soul ~” streaming special, timed to coincide with the canonical birthday of 1st JoJo protagonist Jonathan Joestar. (Jonathan was born on April 4th, 1868 – Stone Ocean will take place a good 140 years later, in 2011.) Towards the tail end of the event, Fairouz stepped on stage, revealing her new role as the much-anticipated Jolyne. A teaser trailer uploaded to YouTube by Warner Brothers Japan further previewed Fairouz as Jolyne, including her slightly feminized take on her father Jotaro’s famous catchphrase: 「やれやれだわ。」(Yare yare da wa, something akin to “good grief” or “what a pain.”)
Fairouz’s casting has attracted a good deal of excitement and discussion. This is in part due to her status as a relative newcomer. In 2019, after a few video game roles, Fairouz made her anime debut as the protagonist of the awkwardly-titled workout comedy How Heavy are the Dumbells You Lift? (ダンベル何キロ持てる？, for which Fairouz also performed the opening theme.) The other cause for discussion is her personal background; Fairouz, whose father is Egyptian, now joins a short list of prominent multiracial Japanese voice actors.
Japan, a country often considered among the most homogenous in the world, is quickly changing. Japan is already more diverse than often given credit for; the country is home to the indigenous Ainu and Ryukyuan people, as well as major Zainchi Korean and Chinese populations and hundreds of thousands of mixed-race Japanese-Brazilian returnees. In the past twenty years, intermarriages between Japanese nationals and foreign citizens have also been on the rise; it’s estimated that 1 out of every 30 children born in Japan is now a Hafu (ハーフ), the somewhat controversial world used to describe a child born to a Japanese and non-Japanese parent.
Hafu can often experience prejudice and othering in Japan. However, as they become a more prominent part of the population – currently hovering around 3% – representation is increasing in turn. Naomi Osaka, currently among the world’s biggest tennis players, is one; Miyamoto Ariana, half-Japanese half-American Miss Universe Japan is another. Shows like Terrace House have helped normalize Hafu in Japan (even as they court their own controversies).
On the voice-acting front, Fairouz Ai joins the likes of Nakajima Megumi and Ishii Mark (both Philippino-Japanese), as well as Sarah Emi Bridcutt and Uchida Shu (Australian-Japanese) and Doraemon star Kimura Subaru (German-Japanese) on the list of prominent Hafu seiyuu (the word used for anime voice actors). Her story is making waves in Japan.
“…[My] second home”
Fairouz was born Kadota Fairouz-Ai (門田ファイルーズあい). Her parents named her “Fairouz” after the beloved Lebanese singer Fairuz (فيروز), often called “the soul of Lebanon.” (A comparatively small country, Lebanon is a major source of popular music and television in the Arab world.) Although she grew up in Tokyo, Fairouz credits her years spent in Cairo during her elementary education with her “more Egyptian” personality. “The people over there,” she told Newtype Magazine, “they basically feel that they’ll die if they stop talking.”
Fairouz’s parents aimed to raise her bilingual. Whenever her father was home, they’d speak only in Arabic. Or, at least that was the case up to high school, when they figured the strict linguist lifestyle had achieved its aims. From that point onwards, the household became monolingually Japanese.
Her youthful extended sojourn in Egypt was actually her own idea. “Back when I was an elementary school student, I started feeling a bit disconnected from the world around me. Around then I saw a site for a Japanese school in Cairo, and they had pyramid races and parent-child apple picking as school events. I thought it looked fun, and that things might change if I went to this second home I happened to have. When I asked my parents, they happily consented, saying ‘it would be a waste for her to only ever know Japan.'”
She moved in with her paternal grandmother in Cairo. Fairouz has fond memories of running school marathons in the sands around the Great Pyramid of Giza, and of big school festivals following the end of local fasting for Ramadan.
The Road to JoJo
Fairouz returned to Japan for middle school, but found it difficult to fit back in. This is when she first picked up a copy of JoJo’s Bizzare Adventure. (And of all arcs, it just happened to be Stone Ocean.) “While reading it, I thought ‘everyone is fighting for what they believe in or what they want to protect. But I only think of myself. It can’t go on this way.’ It made my own concerns seem so trivial.”
She fell so in love with the world of JoJo that she even became involved with the online JoJo community. Soon, she was taking part in informal online group recitations. She loved voicing the characters, and soon was spending her free time memorizing lines and even practicing sound effects. “While I was doing all that, I started thinking ‘if they make a JoJo anime, I want to become a real voice actress and be in it!’ That’s how I first started down this path.”
Her parents were against the career choice, but she eventually convinced them of how much she wanted to become a voice actress. After saving some money during a year spent working as a dental assistant, Fairouz entered seiyuu training school. There, she befriended the aforementioned Uchida Shu; as Hafu and returnees (帰国子女), they felt they were kindred spirits.
A Dream Come True
Fairouz’s big break came with Dumbells, which put her name on the map for anime fans. Now, being cast as Jolyne – whom Fairouz idealized long before getting the role – she feels like her dreams are really coming true.
Many fans also see her as a dream casting. Others also notice that, as a half-Egyptian Japanese voice actress, she seems almost fated to play the character. (Jolyne’s father, Jotaro, is most famous for his Stardust Crusaders arc taking place in Egypt.)
Stone Ocean, Hearts Open
In a separate interview, Fairouz said of her casting that “…a dream I’ve been chasing for 12 years came true. The joy was so great, my tears just wouldn’t stop coming.” She also made her desire to do justice to the character very clear. “Of all those I’ve encountered, [Jolyne] is the bravest, most beautiful, loving and wonderful person in the world. I hope to put my all into my acting, allowing her dialogue to help me take on her gutsy attitude!”
In the end, it really is incredible that Fairouz’s dream seems to have been realized in such a pitch-perfect manner. At 27, something she’s been imagining since middle school has suddenly become reality. Now, with fans in Japan and abroad behind her, we can only await her turn as Jolyne. Her personal aspirations, powerful will, and strong voice should make this one bizarre adventure well worth the wait.
はるのおと. (2019年07月02日). 「ダンベル何キロ持てる？」ファイルーズあいインタビュー「筋トレで鍛えた腹筋で、もっといい声でもっといい芝居ができるよう、頑張りマスキュラー！」. WebNewtype.
(2021年4月5日). 「アニメ「ストーンオーシャン」空条徐倫役・ファイルーズあい、声優を目指したきっかけは「ジョジョ」. CinemaToday.
Fairouz Ai Official Profile. Pro-Fit.