Veteran Japanese voice actor Keiji Fujiwara passed away on April 12, 2020, after a long bout with cancer. He leaves behind an astoundingly impressive legacy as a performer, and I thought it would be a fitting tribute to discuss my ten favorite anime roles among his work. What you’ll find is a level of versatility befitting the actor’s talent.
Disclaimer: I haven’t seen everything he’s ever been in, so this is less an authoritative list and coming more from the heart. Also, while he has plenty of experience in video games and even dubbed English shows and movies—he was the official Japanese voice of Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, for example—I’m limiting it to just anime.
10. Kalos Eido (Kaleido Star)
As the owner of the Los Angeles-based circus Kaleido Stage, Kalos Eido is there to recognize the talent and potential of the heroine, Sora Naegino. This sort of older mentor character is something Fujiwara plays fairly often, but it’s Kalos’s interactions with the entire cast (especially the star acrobat, Layla Hamilton) that makes this one memorable.
9. The Hachimitsu Academy Chairman (Prison School)
Prison School is a series chock full of outrageous personalities, but the Chairman is his own unique brand of absurdity. The character, known for both an unparalleled love of ass and an excessive amount of gravitas, requires a voice actor who can play him in a dramatic fashion without being too tongue-in-cheek about it. Fujiwara nails the role.
8. Volcott O’Huey (Galaxy Angel)
While it’s the girls themselves who are the stars of the series, it can’t be underestimated how well Fujiwara takes to playing the bumbling captain of Galaxy Angel. In a way, he’s the backdrop upon which the main characters can terrorize the stars (and one another), and he hits the right amount of goofiness.
7. Tatsuya Kimura (Hajime no Ippo)
Compared to some powerful fighters in his gym, boxer Tatsuya Kimura is pretty much an average boxer. However, it’s also because the character has so little that Fujiwara’s performance shines. Fujiwara successfully captures that mediocrity, as well as Kimura’s own awareness (and frustration) of his limits.
6. Esidisi (JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 2: Battle Tendency)
While Esidisi is among the less prominent of the ancient mega-vampire antagonists known as the Pillar Men, Fujiwara gives the character a uniquely crazed edge. As a result, his performance is no less impressive than that of the other Pillar Men—not an easy feat in a series as wild and over-the-top as JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.
5. Shingo Shouji (Initial D)
There are villains out there who awe and astound. Then there’s Shingo Shouji, the slimy member of the street-racing team known as the Night Kids. He’ll play dirty, set up dangerous races that give him the advantage, and do everything but have a fair and honest competition. Fujiwara’s performance really highlights just how punchable Shingo is, and you really can’t help but hate him.
4. Maes Hughes (Fullmetal Alchemist)
Arguably Fujiwara’s most beloved role, this doting father in Fullmetal Alchemist is a source of both humor and tragedy. I think it’s notable that while many characters had new voices in the second anime series, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Fujiwara came back to play Hughes. It’s hard to picture the guy without Fujiwara’s voice behind him, where the actor’s range is on full display.
3. Shuuji Hanamoto (Honey & Clover)
Deep resonant emotions are part and parcel with a romance series like Honey & Clover, and art professor Shuuji Hanamoto is embroiled in the complicated mess of relationships. Fujiwara’s portrayal of the character really hits home that the character is both wise due to experience but still immature on some level.
2. Ali al-Saachez (Mobile Suit Gundam 00)
Among all Gundam villains, Ali al-Saachez is one of the most despicable—no easy feat when you have among their ranks cruel mass murderers and Nazi-esque fascists! But al-Saachez’s cruelty knows no bounds, and he’s even the one who forced the hero of Gundam 00, Setsuna F. Seiei, to become a child soldier. It’s hard to forget Fujiwara as al-Saachez yells Setsuna’s real name, Kashim, with a mix of delight and malice.
1. Holland (Eureka Seven)
As the leader of Gekkostate, Holland is the face of the rebellion against the government in the world of Eureka Seven. However, for as effective a leader he is both practically and spiritually, Holland often finds himself in over his head. Fujiwara captures the nuances of Holland’s character in myriad ways—from the contradiction between his desire for maturity in others and his own fiery temper to the frustration he feels when he realizes that he has to let the next generation fight their battle. Fujiwara expresses the defiant attitude, daring nature, and personal hang-ups of Holland so well, I can easily hear in my head the character’s grumbles that betray his vulnerability.
Rest in peace, Keiji Fujiwara. Thank you for giving life to every character you touched.