Anime Corner had the chance to chat with Zeno Robinson about the currently ongoing Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead anime, in which he voices the protagonist Akira Tendo in the English dub version. Of course, we took the opportunity to chat with the voice actor about more than that!
From the get-go, it is clear that Zeno enjoys his work very much – he cheerfully answered all the questions we managed to squeeze in while sitting next to his figure and Funko Pop collections. Over the years he has voiced multiple characters, including Hawks from My Hero Academia, Vanitas from The Case Study of Vanitas, Taiga Kagami in Kuroko’s Basketball, and Tooru in Horimiya, among others. Here is what he thinks about Zom 100 and Akira!
Q: How did you first hear about Zom 100?
Z: I knew that Zom 100 was being made into an anime. I’m subscribed to the VIZ app and the Shonen Jump app and I would see it when I would scroll through the app as it was this colorful thing and what really stood out to me was that period of time when he had dreads. I was like “Wow, this character has dreads” and “Man, the zombie apocalypse is taking place for so long that he grew his hair out.” But that was mostly all I knew about the show at that point.
I knew it [the anime] was happening and then I got an audition from one of the studios whose roster I’m on, Bang Zoom! Studios and I got an audition for Zom 100 the show. I sent it in; I watched the trailer just to get a feel for the show and get a feel for the original seiyuu, Shuichiro Umeda – he’s incredible. Then I auditioned and I didn’t hear back for a while, actually, And then I got an e-mail from my agent where he, it was funny: I was sad that I didn’t book this other thing, I auditioned for something else, and I was really sad I didn’t book it. And then my agent sent me an e-mail and he was like “Hey, this is the lead in that other show you audition for, right?” and I said “What?” My gosh, so it’s pretty crazy. Uh, but yeah, that was a long-winded way of saying that I auditioned for the show.
Q: What was your first impression of Akira as a character?
Z: My first impression of Akira was that I thought he was an incredibly interesting character. He wears his emotions on his sleeve, but he also feels them very deeply. And he’s so layered and nuanced. My first impression of him was: “Man, I relate to this guy.” I really just want him to be happy and he’s incredibly brave. I think he’s incredibly brave to look at essentially what is an apocalypse-level event in the face and find the bright side in it. And I think that’s really admirable.
Q: You voice so many characters that are quite different from each other. When it comes to doing dubs and, in general when it comes to voicing original characters, how do you decide how a character sounds?
Z: I try to watch the original performance to get a feel of the tone and the attitude and the pacing of the character, and I combine that with my own research with, like looking up the character and reading the source material and coming up with a voice for it on my own. And I combine those. And that and produces then I work with the directors of the show and the producers who, you know, have their ideas of what they want the voices to sound like and all that combined usually produces the character voice that I end up going with. I had this old acting teacher, his name is Tony Gonzalez. He’s still teaching too! One of the pieces of advice he gave me was to, you know when you’re a kid and you play with toys, you give them all these different voices? So just look at all your characters like toys. What voice would they have and how? Where does that voice live inside of you? And, so because I play all a crazy range of characters I sort of kind of look at them individually and ask what does this voice sound like and what does it sound like in me. And how can I make it different from another voice that might be similar?
Q: Do you watch anime in your free time?
Z: Yeah, I love anime. I got into acting cause I love anime in general. So whenever I get time to watch anime I try to [watch it] in my free time.
Q: When it comes to the dubs, do watch the original series or do you like to go in blindly?
Z: I tend to prefer to watch the original show or the original episode just so I get an idea of the arc of the entire episode. Each character usually begins in a place and ends in a place so he learns. Or if I’ve read the original material I feel like I sometimes don’t need to watch the original show because I know what happens and I just need to know the arc that the character goes through in that particular episode at that particular moment. But I typically do like to watch the sub episode first so I know what my character is saying, and how they’re saying it just in case I want to stick closer to that when we get to the recording. And to make sure it aligns with what I think fans will love and what I want to do with the character as an artist and, hopefully, with what the producers and directors want as well.
Q: The eternal debate: sub or dub?
Z: It’s an eternal debate for sure, but it depends on the show. Sometimes I watch shows in dub, especially if there’s an actor that I really admire or peers of mine I want to support or sometimes I’ll just turn on the English version of the show. So it’s jus really up to the show and what appeals to me more performance-wise or artistically. Quite often recently I’ve been finding myself watching a lot more stuff in dub, but yeah it’s whichever. Sometimes I watch some of the shows in sub and some of the same shows in dubs, just to hear it.
Q: Back to Zom 100: what has been your favorite moment in the anime so far?
Z: So far my favorite moment is… [pause] I think well, at least the one I’m that excites me the most is in episode 5 “The Hero of the Dead.” He [Akira] actually asks himself what a hero is, and he has this really cool, it’s funny enough that I’m saying this cause I am in that show too, but he has really cool My Hero Academia moment and he punches a shark in the face and it’s really great. I think that so far is my favorite moment. It’s just so cool and I was really, really, really excited to do that scene.
T: And it was a zombie shark, too
Z: Right, zombie shark on top of that!
Q: In case of a zombie apocalypse, what would be the first thing that you do?
Z: Oh, the first thing. If this happened, the first thing I would do, I think is, probably call my mom, family, and my friends. And before all the cell towers are out come up with a little bit of a game plan. You know, this is where we meet, who has a bunker? Try to come up with a game plan before we can’t communicate as easily anymore and then go to a department store, and get myself a crowbar because a crowbar is the most one of the most useful tools you could ever have during a zombie apocalypse and stock up on as many much supplies as I can.
[He spoke about the zombie apocalypse plan with the certainty of a person who has extensively thought about it.]
Q: Do you usually enjoy zombie media?
Z: Yeah, back when zombies were a little more popular than they are now I was a huge zombie person. I watched World War Z and The Walking Dead. I love The Last of Us and that was one of my favorite games. And Left 4 Dead, I would always play it with my friends. I was big into zombies back when zombies were everywhere so it’s like kind of cool that they’re making a little bit of a resurgence with Zom 100.
Q: Could you tell us more about how you became a voice actor?
Z: Interesting. Yeah. So my journey started a long, long, long time ago. In the year 2008. I was in middle school and I saw this play. All these kids were running through the aisles and I was like “Whoa what’s that like? I want to do that.” And so I walked up to the drama teacher at that school. His name was Mr. Lisker, and I asked him to be in his drama class. I was already in another elective, so I had to finish that and then join drama in the next semester. But that’s when my mom knew that I was into acting. And then she put me into this program out here in LA called All About Kids. That program let me audition in front of a bunch of agents. One of those agents picked me up: Melissa over at CESD and she sent me on my first voiceover audition, which was for Ben 10: Alien Force – I ended up booking that job.
So that was the first ever voice-over job that I had ever done and it was at Cartoon Network, it was a big huge crazy show and that’s what I learned about the industry. And then from there, I didn’t work for a very, very long time. But I was like always in classes. Like I said there’s a teacher I mentioned earlier, Tony Gonzalez, I was taking his class, I was taking a class with Charlie Adler. I was taking all these voice-over classes. And then at Anime Expo, the studio that’s doing Zom100, they would do these open auditions and I did the open audition in I think 2015 or 2016 and lost. Then that same studio was doing another kind of open audition, they called it Perfect Idol. And so I did that. And then I lost. And then I went back to Anime Expo the next year to do the open auditions again, and I got a callback and that’s how I got on that roster. And that’s when I started working on anime.
And then you know, one thing led to another, and like setting my demo places and then my, you know, I worked with friends and a friend of mine put my name in and my agent was also working on Funimation and Crunchyroll stuff and that’s how My Hero Academia happened. And then, you know, somewhere before that I was doing Big City Greens on Disney and I was doing Creative Creek and Young Justice and I was starting to get work. Yeah, that was like a crazy jigsaw puzzle way of explaining, but you know, everyone’s journey is different. And sometimes you just kind of stumble into things. But I’m also blessed with an incredible community. Brittany Lauda was one of the people who put my name in over at Funimation to audition for My Hero Academia as well as my agent Sam. He’s just sort of a hard-working guy, and like, he was really, really open to the idea of me wanting to do more anime and be in anime. And he like one of my biggest champions and still is. And so, you know, I’m very, very thankful to my team and my community as well.
Q: Out of all the characters you voiced so far, do you have a favorite one?
Z: It’s hard. It’s like picking your favorite kid.
T: There is always one!
Z: There’s right. You’re like, no, pick one. There’s always one. I can’t say like which one I think is my favorite. But usually what I do is I end up having the most fun with a particular character at a particular time. And right now, like I’m I think I’m just really enjoying playing Akira. I think spiritually emotionally, and psychologically, I’m just connecting the Akira so much and his story is so layered and interesting to me and I just feel like it’s divinely aligned that I’m blessed to play him. I’m not even saying that because this is a Zom100-themed interview, I really am having a great time being Akira and I’m having a lot of fun. And it’s it’s a joy and a pleasure to play him. So yeah, Akira is my current favorite right now.
Q: Is there a franchise you would like to be a part of?
Z: There’s this anime out called… Or this is not an anime, it is a manga called Gachiakuta and I would love to play a character in that. That’d be cool, I love that manga.
Q: Do you have a message for your fans who might be looking to get into the voice-acting industry? How to properly practice and protect your voice?
Z: My biggest thing is just to remember that you love it and if you love it, you’ll be looking out for and protecting your voice. Make sure you warm up. WARM UP! It sounds at first like “nah” – that’s how I was: “I don’t need to warm up.” You do. And just remember that you love it and it’s going to be the thing that sustains you on your journey. There’s going to be a lot of rejection, there’s gonna be e a lot of dreams that you have to let go of in order to survive the disappointment of not having those things. Your love for the art of what this is is what’s gonna make it worth it when you do get to the places that you want to go.
And that was all the time we had with Zeno Robinson. It was great learning more about him and his career, but also the voice acting industry and dubbing as a whole. You can follow him on Twitter/X and Instagram.
Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead: © Haro Aso, Kotaro Takata, Shogakukan / Zom100 Project