Elizabeth Maxwell on Ymir’s Journey, Female Saiyans, and John Carpenter

TV

Anime fans are becoming increasingly savvy when it comes to the voice actors that are responsible for their favorite characters. It’s so touching to witness this symbiotic relationship play out where fans will follow voice actors to new series just as much as they’ll check out a new series because of its story or genre. Elizabeth Maxwell is a seasoned voice actor who can be heard in anime like Attack on Titan and My Hero Academia as well as video games that include The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Persona.

Elizabeth rises to the occasion with all of her characters, some of which are anime’s most celebrated female fighters. Elizabeth Maxwell opened up to Den of Geek at 2023’s Anime Milwaukee on the unusual circumstances behind getting cast as Attack on Titan’s Ymir, why Dragon Ball needs more ass-kicking Saiyan like Caulifla, and which John Carpenter movie would make the best anime series.

DEN OF GEEK: One of your first major roles was Ymir in Attack on Titan. She’s such an important character in that series, but at the time did you have any idea of her significance?

ELIZABETH MAXWELL: No, none of us did. Not the director, Mike McFarland, or myself. I don’t know if you knew this, but Ymir was my first anime role–ever–and it was my very first time auditioning for Crunchyroll, which at the time was still Funimation. I’ve joked with Mike McFarland that if he knew what a big character Ymir was going to become then he never would have cast me because I was so new! I don’t actually think that’s true, but it was a pretty pleasant surprise. She was a mysterious character and we kind of knew that her story was probably going to go somewhere interesting, but I had no idea that it was going to go where it went.

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With the final season of Attack on Titan gearing up, has it been exciting getting to watch that series come to a close?

I’m just ready to freaking know! I feel like we’ve been waiting for so long. The story of Attack on Titan has been one of the most intriguing to me in terms of truly not knowing where it was going to go and all of its twists, turns, and surprises. I’m ready, body and soul!

You’re the voice of The Major in Ghost in the Shell: Arise. What was it like to play a character that’s not only so iconic in anime, but also one of the medium’s strongest female role models?

That one was honestly nerve-racking. I grew up listening to Mary Elizabeth McGlynn. She was one of my favorite voice actors when I was growing up. The first anime that I ever saw was the original Ghost in the Shell movie. Honestly, I probably saw it at too young of an age considering the content. That was a role where there was a weight of responsibility that was associated with it. And it was still early in my career! That was only like the third or fourth anime role that I had ever done, so I was still on the newer side. I was ecstatic, but it was also a situation of knowing that I had big shoes–not necessarily to fill–but to give honor to the original. It was a lot of fun.

You see that happening a lot in anime where characters can get recast between series. In those situations do you try to resemble the original or do you just not think about that and focus on your own take?

Well I was definitely cast, in part, because they thought that there were vocal similarities between Mary Elizabeth and I, but without being the exact same. And because I grew up watching it I was already so familiar with the character. Zach Bolton was the director on that one and we just tried to take it from the perspective of knowing this character, but what would she be like in her greener years and doesn’t have the full knowledge and confidence in herself that she does in Stand Alone Complex. 

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You also voice some of the stronger female characters in Dragon Ball, like Caulifla, which is a series that’s often dominated by male characters. Has it been fun to join that fandom and see how well that character has been received?

Heck yeah! We were way overdue for a female Saiyan at that point, so that was amazing. I love that Dragon Ball is such a family franchise–a generational franchise–and to see little girls get excited about Caulifla is really cool. She’s a fun character. She is probably the most exhausting character that I’ve played. I was like, “She’s gotta’ be a Saiyan because I don’t know where her energy comes from! She’s got so much!” 

You were recently announced to be a voice in the new Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury, which is such a different take on the mecha genre than other Gundam series. Has that been an exciting experience? This is your first Gundam series, right? 

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know a ton about the Gundam franchise, but when the auditions came in–I always try to do a little bit of research to hear what the seiyuu [Japanese voice actor] sound like and how they played them. I usually kind of just skip through to the different characters, but with that show I started watching it and got so sucked in that I just ended up watching a few complete episodes. So, I haven’t always been a Gundam fan, but I quickly became one with The Witch From Mercury. I always hope that I get to be a part of anything that I audition for, but I was really crossing my fingers for that one. I was so excited when I found out that I was cast. 

You’ve also had a prolific career in the video game industry. Do you enjoy playing the games that you’re in or is that a little surreal to some extent?

It can be a little surreal, but a lot of the time it’s not my exact speaking voice and you’re not seeing my face so I can break away from reality a little and forget that it’s me, to a certain extent. I think the weirdest it ever felt was in Persona 5, because SAE is such an intense character. She started yelling at me, while I was playing Joker, and I was like, “Ah! Is this what I’m like when I’m angry?” Being yelled at by yourself–now that is a surreal experience. But yes, I try to play all of the games that I’m in. I can’t say that I’ve beaten all of the games that I’m in. I actually think that during the stay-at-home time of the pandemic, I logged the most hours in Yakuza: Like A Dragon. I love the humor in that game so much.

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You’ve also been involved in a lot of slice of life and romance series, like Fruits Basket. Is that a fun change of pace from the more intense action series?

Absolutely because you have to tailor your performance to the medium and the niche that you are performing within. Like when you’re doing Dragon Ball there’s no room for subtlety. Dragon Ball is not a subtle anime. Something like Fruits Basket, which is real slice of life and intimate, there’s more room for a realistic, grounded, and subtle performance. They’re all fun, but we don’t get to do that subtle stuff as much, so it’s a real treat when we do get to.

I know that you’re a huge Miyazaki fan and he finally has a new movie on the way with How Do You Live? As a fan, I’m sure that you’re excited, but would doing a voice in the movie be a real bucket list goal?

Oh my God, yes! Here’s the thing: I will never give up on that, it’s definitely on my bucket list, and I think that anything is possible and attainable. However, Miyazaki is such a huge name that they usually don’t have any trouble finding A-list movie stars who want to dub those movies. I don’t want to say “never,” but those are coveted roles. We’ve got a lot of competition for them.

I’ve read that you’re a giant John Carpenter fan, too. What’s your favorite movie, or movies, of his and which do you think would make for the best anime series?

Big Trouble in Little China. 100%.

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I love that! I was thinking Snake Plissken feels like such an anime character that an Escape from Japan version of Escape From New York could be so much fun. Like a crazier Akira.

Ohhh, that’s good, too! Would you believe that I saw Escape From L.A. before I saw Escape From New York? Snake Plissken has some of my favorite one-liners of any character and I feel like that would translate really well to anime. I also feel like you could do a really dark, grounded, horror anime, like The Thing.

Or In the Mouth of Madness and go all cosmic apocalypse.

Okay, let’s just turn every John Carpenter movie into an anime. Where’s the Kickstarter? Where do I donate? Are you a content creator? Let’s talk!

You’re acting in an upcoming feature, Rear View Cataclysm, which also has your voice acting collaborator, Jason Liebrecht. Was it nice to get to work in that capacity and already have such a short hand with him?

Well, it’s not really a spoiler or anything, but unfortunately our characters don’t interact very much. It’s about two brothers and I’m the love interest of the younger brother and then Jason plays the older brother and he has a different love interest. So, that was fun as you have that moment as an actor where sometimes your significant other kisses someone else. We got to be on set together a lot, but in many scenes together.

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Clearly, you two need to start a campaign to play characters in the upcoming live-action My Hero Academia movie.

Hey, I look good in a wig and a corset!

Finally, you’ve been voice acting for a decade at this point and the industry continues to change in exciting ways. Have you noticed these changes and what shifts have affected voice acting since you’ve started?

Yeah, there’s a lot that’s changed during the short time that I’ve been dubbing. I kind of came in at a really interesting time where Funimation–now Crunchyroll–was slowly starting to dip their toe into simul-dubs. So that’s really changed the way that we approach dubbing quite a bit. So, watching the industry change to fit that format and how excited the fans have been by simul-dubs has been so cool. Both the anime creators and the people on this side of the pond who are dubbing the content have made a real shift to be more inclusive in terms of racial casting, racial content, and LGBTQ+ content. All of that has been awesome. It’s long overdue, but it’s really gratifying to see that happen on some level. 

The audiences are definitely aware of that and pick up on it, too.

100%. So many of the people who watch anime–you want to see yourself represented in the things that you watch. That’s also why it’s so cool to play strong women in anime because sometimes it feels like people forget that half of anime watchers and video game players are women! It’s good to see! 

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My Hero Academia’s current season streams on Saturdays on Crunchyroll, with episodes also airing on Adult Swim’s Toonami programming block.

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