Movies & TV / Columns

SDCC 2018: Interview With Dragon Ball Super Star and Goku Voice Actor Sean Schemmel

August 2, 2018 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Dragon Ball Super Sean Schemmel

During Comic-Con International in San Diego, 411mania was able to sit down and speak with longtime voice-over actor Sean Schemmel. Schemmel is likely best known to fans for his work as Son Goku for the Dragon Ball franchise, including its latest series, Dragon Ball Super, which is currently airing on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim and being released on home video by Funimation Entertainment. The franchise is also set to continue with a new movie, Dragon Ball Super: Broly, which is due out next year.

Schemmel is a veteran talent who has been working in the business for the better part of three decades. Besides Goku, he also voices King Kai and Goku Black for the franchise. His other credits includes such shows and game titles as Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Sofia the First, Dishonored 2, Kappa Mikey, Winx Club, Berserk, G.I. Joe: Sigma 6, and the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series. Here’s what Schemmel had to say as his continued work as Goku for Dragon Ball and more.

Jeffrey Harris: A new Dragon Ball Super movie featuring Broly got announced. How excited are you?

Sean Schemmel: Yup. Pretty damned excited.

Jeffrey Harris: You can’t derail this train.

Sean Schemmel: It’s not derail-able. Dragon Ball is its own power. It is beyond…*Laughs*

Jeffrey Harris: What do you think now that this franchise is starting to become generational?

Sean Schemmel: It’s definitely generational. I know it’s generational. I meet thousands of fans all over the world every year, and it is definitely generational. I meet fans who insist that their children watch it, name their children after characters, you know. I haven’t met too many kids named Mickey Mouse, but I have met a lot of kids named Gohan. No slight to Disney. I work for ’em. I love Mickey Mouse, and I love all the Disney stuff. I’m just saying, I think the hardcore fans are watching Dragon Ball.

Jeffrey Harris: Have you ever thought that Goku is maybe smarter than he lets on? Or do you think he ever has flashes of brilliance?

Sean Schemmel: That thought — Yeah. I’ve joked that maybe he’s gaslighting everyone. Like he’s totally a dick and just like really knows what’s up, but he’s not. I do think he’s smart — what really belied his intelligence was the Cell Games — the Cell Saga because he kept that ace, Gohan — he had a plan. He played that Gohan card right at the right moment because he knew Gohan could beat Cell.

Jeffrey Harris: I think it’s just like with some things, some people can’t even set up a VCR, but in other areas people are really quick and sharp. For Goku, he seems really brilliant when it comes to strategy and battle.

Sean Schemmel: Oh, I think he’s a fighting genius. Yeah. There’s no question about it. He’s a martial arts master/fighting genius. I don’t think he’s a social genius. He doesn’t have good “EQ.” He doesn’t know when he’s screwing up socially.

Jeffrey Harris: He apparently doesn’t know what kissing is.

Sean Schemmel: He doesn’t know what kissing is. He doesn’t know how to create a deity from another planet. But he knows how to fight really good and eat food good.

Jeffrey Harris: I really enjoy that moment in Super when Trunks has that moment where he basically gives Mai mouth-to-mouth and kisses her, and Goku asks Trunks what he’s doing with his mouth. And Vegeta is bewildered and has a great exchange with Goku. Then, he says he’s done with the whole thing. When you recorded that moment in the booth, did you want Goku’s reaction to sound or come off a certain way?

Sean Schemmel: I was surprised because they hadn’t ever addressed that, and he does have two children. So, I’m having to wonder what happened when they made those children. I’m wondering if he got “Cosby’ed” or something. She put a drug in his drink or something. I don’t know. I definitely wanted it to be a funny scene. But I remember asking the director, “Are we sure this has never been addressed? Is this straight from the Japanese script?” And it was. So we’re like, “Alright. We’ll just do it.” So, I wanted to be like totally — literally, like you’ve gone to another country and you’re seeing a custom you’ve never seen before. Like what if you went to another country, and people stick each others fingers in their nose to say hi, right? Or something — say they do that. I wanted it to seem as alien to him as something like that, since he was so shocked. And the animation dictated that to some degree.

Jeffrey Harris: And this is something I feel like started with the last two Dragon Ball Z movies, but the writing seems — not improved — but more modern and natural. I think the characters are developed and interact in a way that is a lot stronger, and it feels a lot more fulfilling.

Sean Schemmel: I’m not sure if this has to do — because I can’t speak to the creative process, and I don’t know what Akira Toriyama is thinking or what the other writers are thinking, but that thought has crossed my mind too. I wonder if they were starting to see the broad appeal of Dragon Ball, and so they’re trying to pace — I notice the pacing of the story, not just the acting and the characters, but the pacing and the storyboarding is closer to what we do in America and other cartoons. I wonder if they’re going, “Hey, we want to sell this further. We still want to sell our story, but let’s make it — let’s pick up the pace a little bit, let’s try to make this appeal to a worldwide market.” I don’t know if they are or not, though.

Jeffrey Harris: So, you’ve noticed that. Have you enjoyed seeing more of the character-based interactions?

Sean Schemmel: I’m a character actor, and I love character-based shows. And I love humor. I don’t like two weeks of standoffs of, “I’m stronger than you!” “No! I’m stronger than you!” “No! I’m stronger than you!” “No, I’m stronger than you!” Or panning for long periods of time. I know kids love that, and it’s nostalgic for me. I’m going *snoring sound*. OK. We know he’s stronger than him. Let’s get to the fighting. Super is my favorite series because it has enough fighting that’s epic. There’s some epic fighting in Super. There’s great storytelling, a bunch of great comedy, a bunch of great character development, and it’s got elements of Dragon Ball in it from the comedy aspect of it. You know what I mean? Because Dragon Ball is funnier, you know?

Jeffrey Harris: And those old Dragon Ball Z episodes. Those episodes were made back in the 1980s and 1990s.

Sean Schemmel: Oh yeah, true. The 90s, yeah.

Jeffrey Harris: So, it’s been over 20 years since those episodes were made, and I’m sure [art] sensibilities change.

Sean Schemmel: Sensibilities change. Art changes, and art influences art. Like maybe some of the Japanese were like, “I was watching this American cartoon. I loved how they did this, so let’s incorporate [that].” And we watch Japanese cartoons. Art begets art. No man is an artistic island, even though lots of artists like to think they are. So, they’re influencing us. We’re influencing them — I hope. I’m guessing that they are. That’s true between Disney from American cartoons and anime generally. There’s a whole history about the large eyes in anime, from what I heard, animation fans may correct me. But I heard that it [the large eyes in anime] came from the big eyes that they were doing on Mickey Mouse and then drawing it on a human. And then they started drawing it, and then we saw that. It’s a weird one hand feeding the other. I don’t know which one came first, the chicken or the egg, with the chicken being the animation and the egg being the large eyes in anime, but that’s one aspect of it in terms of the history of animation.

Jeffrey Harris: I don’t know how often you get asked about this character, but another character you did that left a huge impression on me was Gaston in the original Berserk anime.

Sean Schemmel: You’re the only person who’s a Gaston fan that I’ve ever met.

Jeffrey Harris: I discovered the show when I first really started to get into anime. And he was just this very simple character, and there was something very precious about his relationship with Guts. He like loved Guts.

Sean Schemmel: He really loved Guts.

Jeffrey Harris: So, do you remember much about that show and character?

Sean Schemmel: I wrote the last volume of that, and I co-directed it with Michael [Sinterniklaas]. Michael directed the bulk of it, but he got sick a couple of times and I had to step in. I remember when he cast me. I auditioned for Guts and almost got the part, but he went with Marc Diraison, who I think is a better Guts than me. He’s a good actor, and he’s great for that part. I was really disappointed though because Michael said, “Oh yeah. Well instead, you’re going to play Guts’ best friend.” I’m like, “Oh, best friend? Great part.” He’s got like five lines, and he dies. Like, that’s not a best friend. He doesn’t have — it really bothered me. I was like, “OK. It seems like Griffith is his best friend.” But I like the anime better than the movies because of the music. The music in the movies was good, but that composer [Susumu Hirasawa] — I forget his name — but he drew on a lot of old Celtic music to make that score, and I love that music.

Jeffrey Harris: But I love that character because I believed that in that time, these men didn’t have much going for them in their lives. And they found someone they believe in.

Sean Schemmel: They found a rockstar — a rising rockstar [Griffith].

Jeffrey Harris: I love that moment in the Eclipse, and he was one of the last people Guts had an intimate interaction with when everything was going to hell. I always wondered about your thoughts on working on it. I mean we’re still talking about this show all these years later.

Sean Schemmel: Yeah. Berserk is great. It came back. There was some issue regarding the cast, etc. I actually know a lot about that. I can’t talk about it, but whatever is being said publicly by various companies is not the truth. That show is a really good, profound show. We thought it was really going to take off because they made a video game out of it. It’s an interesting story. It’s too violent almost. I call it the high blood pressure show because every time someone gets stabbed, there’s a *whoosh sound effect* of blood everywhere just spraying. Everyone has high blood pressure on that show. I really enjoyed that show a lot, even though it kind of freaked me out. I can handle the demon-devil stuff —

Jeffrey Harris: It’s dark.

Sean Schemmel: It’s really dark.

Jeffrey Harris: It’s really dark and intense. And that show predates things like Game of Thrones.

Sean Schemmel: Yeah it’s Game of Boning definitely — I mean Thrones. That’s what I call it. I call it Game of Boning because there’s all the boning in it. I don’t need to watch all the people boning. There’s a time and place for sex, and unless it moves the story along, you’re just being gratuitous. So, stop it. I’m not conservative, though. I’m just —

Jeffrey Harris: Last question, what was your reaction when you found out there was going to be new Dragon Ball series with Dragon Ball Super?

Dragon Ball

Sean Schemmel: The new movies surprised me, and I thought we were done. Then, I was really surprised with the series. Then, this new movie doesn’t surprise me because after doing a new series, you have to do a movie for the series. So, I was more surprised about Battle of Gods than I was for Resurrection F and more surprised about Super than I was for Battle of Gods. *Laughs* Great. Does that make sense?

Jeffrey Harris: I think this franchise is in a place where you can just keep doing it infinitely.

Sean Schemmel: Someone asked me if it could be as big as — if it’s a rich enough universe to make a brand like Disney’s world and Harry Potter and have amusement parks. I’m like, “I think it absolutely is as big enough to do that.”

Jeffrey Harris: I agree because Toriyama has done some side stories about characters like Jaco, so it’s a very huge, rich universe.

Sean Schemmel: Oh, it’s an absolutely rich universe.

Thank you to Sean Schemmel for taking the time to speak with us during Comic-Con International. New episodes of Dragon Ball Super are currently airing on Adult Swim’s Toonami block on Saturday nights. Dragon Ball Super: Broly, which is the 20th film in the Dragon Ball franchise, is due out in Canadian and U.S. theaters in January 2019, courtesy of Funimation Entertainment.