When artificial intelligence starts to evolve into something more human, one might not expect that the first thing it would do is sing a song. In Sing a Bit of Harmony, experimental AI robot Shion and high school student Satomi go from strangers to best friends in a series of baffling events.
Bearing the nickname “Princess Tattletale,” Satomi is a loner at school, and her classmates aren’t fond of her due to her reputation. Keeping to herself, Satomi is completely caught off guard when new student Shion initiates their first encounter by asking Satomi if she is happy, before proceeding to break into song in front of the entire class. This marks the start of an odd relationship between the pair. Eventually, with the help of Satomi’s classmates Toma, Thunder, Gocchan, and Aya, the two become inseparable. As secrets reveal themselves, Shion and Satomi are faced with the possibility of never being able to see each other again. However, Satomi and her newfound friends refuse to let that happen, and along the way, they discover that some bonds run deeper than expected.
Ahead of the U.S. theater run of Sing a Bit of Harmony‘s from January 23 to 26, APA sat down for a conversation with English-dub voice actors Megan Shipman (Shion) and Risa Mei (Satomi), as well as ADR song director Brina Palencia to discuss the unique relationship between Shion and Satomi and music as a form of expression.
On its surface, the film seems to simply be about the unlikely friendship between a lonely girl and an AI robot, but the trio were eager to hint at the depth of Sing a Bit of Harmony. “There’s no other way to describe it without spoiling the film, but it’s just so sweet and wonderful. [When you reach the end] it shines a new light on every interaction,” shared Shipman. For Mei, recording in the studio as the story unfolded helped her get into the character of Satomi: “When I was recording in the booth, I knew I didn’t completely know the full story going into it. So, there were a couple moments that were kind of a surprise to me too, so I felt like in a sense, I grew with the character in her own story.”
While they recorded separately, Shipman and Mei dive into their approach to portraying Shion and Satomi’s meeting. As an AI robot, Shipman’s focus was “just to be happy.” She said, “[Shion] just always wants to help people, that’s why she’s never sad or upset. And it was really interesting because it’s just not a normal way to act with other people.” Meanwhile, Mei felt Satomi’s reaction to Shion’s bizarre introduction mirrored her own. “It’s so funny to see their initial meeting because that kind of sets the premise for the rest of the movie,” she said.
Like in this pivotal meeting, music is foundational to developing Shion and Satomi’s relationship. Palencia, as ADR music song director, was focused on making scratch tracks, adapting the lyrics, and directing Shipman when singing. “I think particularly with this movie, those songs were so important, and they needed to feel as natural as possible for Shion to sing them, so Megan really needed to be familiar with it ahead of time,” she shared. What really helped bring the songs to life was the fun and energy that Shipman and Palencia shared when recording. “We had worked adjacent to each other, but hadn’t really gotten to be together for hours at a time before. It was just the two of us and an engineer, and it felt like I got a really good ab workout every time because of all the laughter,” Palencia said. “Both of us are very competent musicians, so it really was very much like ‘Let’s focus on the feeling of this.'”
Without music, all three agreed that Shion and Satomi’s friendship would not have developed the same way. “I feel like music is a medium that transcends languages and crosses borders, so I think that it’s one of those things that will come across whether you see it subbed or dubbed,” Mei shared. Similarly, Palencia said, “The music is what brings the magic. Shion’s able to sort of translate people’s feelings for them through music, and I don’t think she could have done that just through talking. The singing, I think, is what makes her accessible.” While Shion can seem like a singleminded AI robot, her empathy shines through her singing. Shipman explained, “I feel like she would have come across as just the super peppy, happy, oblivious girl without the music. She genuinely wants to help, and it’s only when you hear her singing that you see how genuine she is. It’s hard to describe, but I think when you watch the movie, you’ll understand.”