‘Jujutsu Kaisen 0’ Voice Actor Kayleigh McKee Is Breaking the Boundaries of Trans Representation in Anime
Jujutsu Kaisen is one of the biggest series in anime and manga right now. Its prequel chapters, collected into Volume 0, were published in 2017 before the main series began in 2018. As a follow up to the tremendous success of the anime, which started airing in 2020, Volume 0 has now been adapted into a movie, out today, called Jujutsu Kaisen 0. As we’ve seen with other recently successful anime movie releases, like Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – The Movie: Mugen Train and My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is also being released worldwide.
Jujutsu Kaisen 0 follows the story of Yuta Okkotsu, a nervous high school student who enrolls in the mysterious Tokyo Jujutsu High School, under the guidance of Satoru Gojo, to learn how to fight curses that exist in the world. He and his childhood friend, Rika, decide that when they get older, they’re going to get married and be together forever. But in a typical Jujutsu Kaisen way, Yuta watches as Rika gets hit by a car and dies, becoming a powerful curse that follows and torments anyone who tries to mess with Yuta, causing a lot of problems for him.
For the English voiceover, Yuta is voiced by Kayleigh McKee. McKee is a trans woman who throughout her career has voiced characters of different genders. And there’s already a precedent for this, as there are several cis women who voice boys or men with higher pitched voices, but it’s particularly unique to see a trans woman doing the same thing successfully.
As much as Satoru Gojo gets nearly all of the love from fans of the anime, Jujutsu Kaisen 0 is the Yuta Okkotsu show. Seeing a trans woman being his voice actor is a huge step forward for trans representation in the voice-acting industry, especially because it’s obvious that she was, without a doubt, the best choice to really capture Yuta’s anxiety, grief and his eventual growth into a capable jujutsu sorcerer throughout the movie.
When we ask for more representation of LGBTQIA people, this is what we mean. We want to see talented and capable queer voice actors like McKee in big roles like this.
Hornet got a chance to ask Kayleigh McKee some questions about her experiences as a trans woman in the voice acting industry, and her upcoming role on Jujutsu Kaisen 0.
HORNET: You’ve been doing voiceover roles for all genders. What has that experience been like for you as a trans woman?
Kayleigh McKee: Honestly, it just feels, frankly, amazing. You know, there were people who came before me, like Maile Flanagan, who does Naruto. Seeing people like that, I felt like, “OK, I know that I can bring stuff to both sides of role portrayal as well.”
Seeing these people in the industry doing those roles made me feel like I could do it. And then I just had to prove myself and the fact that people believe in me to be able to do that has just been a real gift.
What do you think your visibility as an openly trans woman in the industry means for the LGBTQ community, especially for the LGBTQ fans of anime?
You know, I’ve heard from a lot of fans, telling me that just seeing me in shows and seeing me succeed, in my way, has been very good for them. And they said they felt like they didn’t have to stay in the closet. And the moment that I got my first message like that, honestly, I felt like, well, that’s it, you know, I did what I came here to do. Now let’s just do more of it.
Because that was a big part of what I wanted to do with my career, was just make a change. For one person who felt stuck or lost. And I’m going to keep doing my very best to be a good symbol for the community that is not afraid to talk about the depth and the complexities and the hardships, but as well as our joy, and the unique parts of us that we can share that can bring joy to others.
Is there anything you do in particular to get into character, or does it vary based on the gender of the character you’re portraying?
Absolutely. Particularly with my throat, like my voice range. For a feminine range, I warm up very differently. So if we need to do both a guy and a girl in the same session, normally I will do most of the women [first], because then [the masculine range is] easier after you’ve had some vocal stress.
I think everybody of every gender has experienced that when you have vocal stress, your voice pulls down a little bit and gets a little scratchy, so it’s easier to go down to masculine after doing feminine, and then to get into those characters.
Honestly, it’s gonna vary case-by-case based on the specific character. I just pull from my experiences, you know, living a little bit falsely in a masculine way a lot of my life, but always knowing I was feminine as well. So I have a lot of experience to pull from on both sides. And I constantly make sure I don’t forget those places within me, and that I make sure to keep them there in my mind so I can pull them forward for different characters.
Yuta is one of the most popular Jujutsu Kaisen characters right now. What was it like voicing him, and what aspects of Yuta were you most excited to explore?
His growth — I was very excited to tackle that, from a very scared, very nervous child, a traumatized child, then finding his goals and his reason to be here and portraying that evolution. And when he might fall back into that, a little push forward into a very confident stance was really, really fulfilling.
And I utilize that in my voice a little bit as well. I played with his level of how much he wavers nervously, how much resonance he has. Sometimes he’s a little more nasally, like when he’s been crying, or his eyes are always watering when he feels like that. And so I will add that and then pull back when I feel like he steps up within himself and brings his energy out. And that shows in his voice. It was a challenge, but it was very fulfilling.
What were some of the challenging aspects of that?
Really thinking about where those shifts happen, and letting myself naturally flow with it. Making sure to consider it and show that evolution in a way that would be the most satisfying for a fan watching. And it was something that I haven’t been able to explore as much before.
I would say the closest that I had was Pina in Beastars. But for something like this, there was so much more range to it. And it was a cathartic exploration of trauma, of events that have happened to somebody that changed them forever. It took a lot to pull myself into those places. I took those moments to make sure that I could pull that out of myself. But at the same time, it felt very, very good to be able to utilize those parts of me.
Jujutsu Kaisen is one the biggest animes right now. How does it feel as a trans woman to take on such a big project?
Honestly, very exciting. I can’t say there’s not a little bit of “Why was it specifically me to get this first huge spot spotlight?” because there are so many other talented queer and trans people out there, but I try not to dwell on it too much. And I try to consider the fact that I’m here because I give a good performance. And I’m here because, you know, I was the right person for the job in this instance. And past that, I just try to be the best symbol for our community that I can be since I’ve ended up here. You know, it comes with a bit of responsibility, I feel, and I’m not one to shirk it.