Days after a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, Los Angeles-based voice actor Stephanie Sheh, known for her roles on popular series like Bleach, FLCL, Naruto and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, flew into action and helped form We Heart Japan. The organization hosts creative fundraising events featuring a number of people involved in the U.S. anime industry, with proceeds going to Japan NGO Earthquake Relief and Recovery Fund.
Last March, we attended We Heart Japan's inaugural event, an art and memorabilia auction/autograph signing held at Meltdown Comics that raised $7,500 for disaster relief. As Japan continues to recover from the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, We Heart Japan has continued organizing fundraiser. On October 1, they will be holding what might be their biggest event yet with We Heart Performing for Japan at Theater of Arts Arena Stage in Hollywood.
"I thought, what we could do that would be unique and special?" says Sheh when we spoke over the phone.
On Saturday night, they will have a lot for L.A. fans of Japanese pop culture. Singer and songwriter Mari Iijima, who was featured in L.A. Weekly's People issue this year, will be performing live. Actors Dan Southworth and TJ Rotolo, who both have a history with the Power Rangers franchise, will lead the audience in a demonstration of sentai show fighting techniques. Topping off the night is a reunion of the U.S. voice cast of Cowboy Bebop, who will be reading an episode live on stage. Beau Billingslea (Jet Black), Steve Blum (Spike Spiegel), Melissa Fahn (Edward), Wendee Lee (Faye Valentine) and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (Julia) are all set to appear at the event.
"It's been a while since this cast has come together," says Sheh, who adds that she's a fan of the show.
Though the Cowboy Bebop reading has only been recently announced, We Heart Japan has been dropping hints for weeks, naming the voice cast one at a time on Facebook and Twitter. (Nerd confession: After I saw tweets that Wendee Lee and Melissa Fahn were attending, I was hoping that Cowboy Bebop would be the mystery show reading.)
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"I wanted to see something that had been released a while ago," says Sheh. "Something that fans haven't seen for a while."
As far as animes go, Cowboy Bebop is a great choice. The sci-fi action/drama is one of those few series that even your friends who aren't into anime know. A hit both in Japan and the U.S., Cowboy Bebop can be credited with turning on a lot of people to the genre. It became the cornerstone of Adult Swim's anime programming and, though there are only twenty-six episodes in the series, it continues to air on the network ten years after it debuted.
We Heart Performing for Japan starts Saturday at 6 p.m. (with a pre-show even at 5). Tickets range from $40-60 donations. Theatre of Arts Arena Stage is located at 1625 N. Las Palmas, Hollywood, CA 90028. For more info, check out We Heart Japan's website.
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