The Daily Almanac: As Funny as a Heart Attack

This was originally going to be part of my Katsucon report, but I feel that there is enough content here that it deserves its own post.  I’m going to have many unfavorable things to say about this convention in tomorrow’s post, but the truth is that my weekend actually started off on a positive note as I attended a panel for voice actor Greg Ayres.

My long time readers probably remember the controversial interview I did with him two years ago over the issue of fansubs. I approached Ayres before his panel last weekend, and much to my surprise, he remembered me very well. We actually got into a very friendly, and somewhat gossipy, conversation prior to the panel. Then I sat with the rest of the audience to hear his interesting story.

And this time, it really had nothing to do with fansubs.

Almost exactly one year ago, Ayres, then a hardcore smoker, was rushed to a local Texas hospital after he began feeling chest pains during the Ikkicon convention. Ayres commended the quick thinking of the con staff to allow him to be taken away on a stretcher without attracting the notice of the convention’s audience.

A short time later as he was in his hospital bed, he suffered a mild heart attack.

The amazing thing is that as Ayres was describing this near death experience, the Katsucon audience were laughing along with him. In fact, they were laughing a lot. The actor was actually working with the audience in making his heart attack a funny and entertaining story! He described how his doctors and nurses quickly discovered his celebrity within the anime community when they Google’d him as he was undergoing treatment.

“Well, according to your Wikipedia page,” his doctor informed him, “You died of a heart attack last night.”

But the jokes came to a brief end as Ayres described how the experimental medications he was put on drove him to a deep depression for the following months. He felt suicidal, ill tempered, and even made a McDonald’s cashier cry when he lashed out, “what the fuck did you do to my burger?”

After realizing the side effects of his prescriptions were probably doing more harm than good, he sought out the second opinion of a new doctor, who quickly took him off the experimental drug.

Ayres immediately felt in higher spirits, and is now far more optimistic about his  condition and situation. He was forced to give up smoking, and has found the change to be far more beneficial to his health and voice acting ability. He now claims that he can achieve his unique voice of Negi Springfield of the Negima! series with much less prep time than he did as a smoker.

But he did say that the experience did change his outlook on his career and the anime industry in general, and he wasn’t afraid of speaking out against certain companies and certain individuals.

He was highly critical of an unnamed anime news publication, who Ayres described as “the Enquirer of the anime world,” for the way they handled his heart attack story. The publication was one of the first to report on the news of the heart attack, but they had removed it when Ayres’s family requested privacy. However, the media outlet then threatened to repost the article within a few days if the Ayres didn’t comply with an official statement himself.

Ayres was surprised that the anime media was so insistent in reporting his story and threatening his family to publicly address the issue. He pointed out that in the same week, Japanese studio Gonzo had undergone a major restructuring and was forced to lay off 100 members of its staff. “So what was more important to the anime world that week,” Ayres rhetorically asks the Katsucon audience, “Gonzo’s massive layoffs or some smoker who had a heart attack?”

He also had some words of warning to anime fans wishing to get into voice acting. He felt that some of his colleagues in the industry were taking advantage of these fans by offering up classes and instruction manuals for an excessive fee. He urges his fans to not pay these voice actors any money as they are highly unlikely to get you into the anime business.

During the Q&A section of the panel, the fans did inquire his take on the industry in the past year. He was very sad to see one of his largest employers, ADV Films, going under, but he was very optimistic about the future of Section23. He was particularly excited to see the former ADV dubbing studio now working on the Halo Legends project. But still, he’s disappointed that he’ll never get to see the ADV stamp appear on DVD cases ever again.

And as far as his fansub lectures go, he got tired of all the fighting and arguments that resulted from his talks. “I mean, what other industries have to deal with this kind of arguing?” he asks. “Take alcohol for instance. I will never have to fight to save the alcohol industry because their customers will always be paying for that product. I will never have to tell anyone to stop downloading vodka.”

But he did say that he’s planning to restart the fansub panels in the near future, but he’s going to go about it differently. Rather than reminding the audience of the negative consequences of piracy, he’s going to focus on the positive aspects of legal, online alternatives. He also highly commended FUNimation’s recent ventures into online streaming, and for “making free profitable again.” He hopes to have his new panel ready for Anime Boston this spring.

So I was very glad to see that after two years and one near death experience, Greg Ayres hasn’t lost his edge one bit. If you ever have the chance to see him speak, you really should because it’s quite thought provoking. He knows how to make his audience listen with shocking, controversial, and brutally honest stories. But at the same time, he also manages to keep it all amusing and entertaining. After all, he is the kind of man who’s able to make them all laugh about as something as serious as a heart attack.

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UPDATE: When I had originally posted this report: I made the following accusation following Greg’s statement on an anime news source covering his story:

[Writer’s note: Although Ayres did not name any publications in particular, I remember that Anime News Network had pulled the heart attack story shortly after initially reporting the event, and then reposted it a few days later with his official statement.]

In defense of my accusation, ANN’s Zac Bertschy denies giving Ayres such an ultimatum, and maintains that Ayres and ANN has maintained good relations since then.

I still stand by my original accusation because the story just doesn’t make sense if he was dealing with a smaller news site.

But it if was me, I would have never pulled the story in the first place. Ayres’s heart attack was the biggest news that weekend, and it did everyone a disservice for ignoring it as if it never happened.

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