Mari Iijima, an L.A. resident for more than 20 years, has released 21 pop albums, in both Japanese and English. She's worked with famed musicians Ryûichi Sakamoto and Van Dyke Parks. Yet in her native Japan, and to an extent in Los Angeles, she's still best known as the voice of Lynn Minmay in the 1982 anime series The Super Dimension Fortress Macross, a role that propelled her to superstardom when she was just out of high school.
When Iijima first signed with a record label, she was meeting with the A&R rep who signed her when they found out about Macross auditions. Though Iijima had little acting experience, she got the part, and the sci-fi saga went on to become a monumental global hit.
Just as Minmay became a pop star on Macross, Iijima became one in real life. To this day, she doesn't consider herself an actor; Minmay was her only major role.
Regardless, Macross, in some ways, dictated how people saw her. "Once you do some anime stuff, people tend to take that person a little bit lightly. They don't take you seriously as a musician," Iijima explains. "So I struggled with that, the typecast issue."
In 1989, after releasing several successful albums in Japan (her sophomore effort, Blanche, is a must-listen), she moved to L.A. and started a family. She never stopped recording.
"I really thought I could be a musical star here, too," she recalls. But it wasn't until 10 years later that she released her first English-language album, No Limit, which she premiered at Anime Expo, then held at the Anaheim Convention Center.
The irony of Iijima's career arc is that, while she may have felt typecast as a result of Macross in Japan, the anime helped introduce her to U.S. audiences.
Unbeknownst to Iijima at the time she moved to Los Angeles, Macross was a hit in the United States as well. Part of the series had been adapted as Robotech, which was a hit show in the 1980s, but hard-core fans delved into a subtitled version of the Japanese source material.
"I think when I first started going to conventions in the United States, the most amazing thing was that [when] people came to talk to me, they all kind of understood the struggle that I had been through, and they were all really sensitive about talking about Minmay and Macross," Iijima says. "I was very surprised."
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Iijima occasionally makes appearances at conventions like MacrossWorld in L.A., but you're more likely to find her at clubs. She plays most often at Ghengis Cohen in Hollywood. Inside the tiny venue, Iijima tends to play songs off her last album, Echo. Maybe she'll throw in a few pieces she has yet to release, and, if you're lucky, you'll hear her exquisite cover of the Oasis tune "Stop Crying Your Heart Out." You might not hear those Macross songs, though. There's a lot more to Iijima than just Lynn Minmay.