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Popular anime ‘Jujutsu Kaisen’ features Marquette grad as magical warrior in training

Voice actor Anne Yatco says Nobara Kugisaki’s journey from a small town to the big city mirrors her own transition from rural Illinois to Milwaukee to Hollywood

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The anime character Nobara Kugisaki is hunched over during the show "Jujutsu Kaisen."
The anime character Nobara Kugisaki is hunched over during the show “Jujutsu Kaisen.” Anne Yatco, a Marquette University graduate, is the English dub voice actor for Kugisaki. (Photo courtesy Gege Akutami/Shueisha, JUJUTSU KAISEN Project)

In the acclaimed anime series “Jujutsu Kaisen,” the character Nobara Kugisaki desires more than her small town can offer. So she sets out and finds a stronger sense of belonging in Tokyo among other jujutsu sorcerers.

That passage from rural life to a metropolis struck a chord with Anne Yatco, the English voice actor of Kugisaki’s character. Yatco, in 2002, left her small Illinois town to attend Marquette University in Milwaukee.

“I remember that feeling stepping into a bigger city, and feeling like, ‘Oh, I’ve arrived. OK, I’m going to start my life now,’” Yatco said. “That’s something (Kugisaki) definitely experienced and was looking for and was hungry for. That definitely resonated with me.”

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After lots of karaoke, a degree in biomedical engineering and a shift into comedic acting, Yatco found her big break on “Jujutsu Kaisen.” She recently joined WPR’s “The Morning Show” to chart her career path, discuss voice acting and explain what sets Kugisaki apart from other female characters in anime.

“I’m very, very lucky to do what I do,” she said. 

The anime character Nobara Kugisaki holds a hammer and nails in the series "Jujutsu Kaisen."
Anne Yatco voices the English dub for Nobara Kugisaki, a character in the anime series “Jujutsu Kaisen.” (Photo courtesy Gege Akutami/Shueisha, JUJUTSU KAISEN Project)

Yatco transitions from forensic science to acting

Yatco started acting and singing from a young age, thanks to her Filipino heritage, she said.

“Filipinos tend to be natural performers,” she said with a laugh.

Anne Yatco (Photo courtesy Anne Yatco)

She took voice and piano lessons as a child. She performed in plays and choir during high school and at Marquette. Beyond science courses, she took as many theater classes as possible without actually majoring in theater, Yatco said.

Even while working as a forensic scientist for about seven years, Yatco kept acting. She performed in plays, improv shows and sketch comedy. She took voice acting classes — slowly but surely starting a new career.

Yatco received a master’s degree in acting at the California Institute of the Arts, and worked to gain smaller roles, build connections and beef up her resume.

She gradually transitioned from “I dabble in voice acting” to “I am a voice actor.”

Yatco gained a supporting role in the 2018 Netflix miniseries “Devilman: Crybaby.” The job felt like a high-profile, prestigious opportunity and built her confidence for taking on bigger gigs.

“If you’re starting out, you already are a voice actor. If you’re taking classes, if you’re putting together a reel, if you’re auditioning, you’re a voice actor,” Yatco said. “A lot of people feel like, ‘Well, I’m just aspiring.’ Just say you are. It just makes it easier, and it’s easier on your heart.”

Yatco lands major job and explores gender dynamics in anime

At Jump Festa, an anime convention in Tokyo, the creators of “Jujutsu Kaisen” teased the end of the series.

“This is probably, absolutely the last Jump Festa held while ‘Jujutsu Kaisen’ is being serialized,” creator Gege Akutami said, according to comicbook.com.

Yatco said even if the series’ manga — the comic version of the story — comes to an end within the next year or so, there could still be another season or two of anime. The anime series recently wrapped up its second season. Yatco said the series is roughly halfway through the story.

“Jujutsu Kaisen” so far represents Yatco’s biggest role in her acting career.

“I just happened to get really lucky,” she said. “The visibility of ‘Jujutsu Kaisen’ is mind boggling.”

The creators of the anime series announced in December that they had sold 90 million comic book copies. “Jujutsu Kaisen” also earned top recognition at the Crunchyroll Anime Awards in 2021 and the Tokyo Anime Awards in 2022. Its second season is nominated for Crunchyroll’s Anime of the Year.

Yatco considers her character, Nobara Kugisaki, a spitfire and a prickly pear. Viewers of the anime see Kugisaki as clearly large and in charge from the start, Yatco said.

“The first time you meet her, she meets her new classmates, which are two boys, Yuji (Itadori) and Megumi (Fushiguro). She literally thinks to herself, ‘This is what I have to work with?’” Yatco said.

The anime character Nobara Kugisaki stands in front of stairs in the series "Jujutsu Kaisen."
Anne Yatco voices the English dub for Nobara Kugisaki, a character in the anime series “Jujutsu Kaisen.” (Photo courtesy Gege Akutami/Shueisha, JUJUTSU KAISEN Project)

Performing for anime can be hard on actors’ voices, Yatco said. Voice acting requires warming up and using proper technique, such as speaking from the diaphragm and not relying on the throat too much, she said.

The voice Yatco uses for Kugisaki is like Yatco’s natural voice. The character deviates from feminine stereotypes in how she acts and sounds, Yatco said. 

“A lot of female characters, especially in Shonen anime, tend to have much higher pitched voices, little more cutesy voices, which I can do,” she said. “But I love that I get to use this part of my range for a major character in a show. It’s really nice.” 

In one scene, Kugisaki says she doesn’t care about what men or women have to be. She loves when she’s pretty and dressed up as well as when she’s fighting. When Yatco read the scene in the manga, she couldn’t wait to sink her teeth in.

“I’m proud to be a part of a show that wants to fly in the face of what is normal and what is conventional about those male-female dynamics in manga and anime,” Yatco said. 

Yatco now lives in an even bigger city, Los Angeles, but still makes her way back home to the Midwest every now and then.

“It always makes me happy,” she said. 

Editor’s note: The video below contains explicit language.

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