Monika Antonelli: An animated history

MNSU librarian was part of original Dragon Ball Z dub cast

MNSU assistant professor and librarian, Monika Antonelli, screamed in a booth as a side job during one chapter in her life.

The 57-year-old voiced the characters of Chiaotzu and Puar in the anime series Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball: GT, Dragon Ball Z (DBZ), and several other installments associated with the franchise.

She came into her voice acting role through a stroke of luck. While working as a librarian in 1996 at the University of North Texas (UNT) in Denton, Texas, she saw a flyer for a casting call for an animated TV cartoon. Antonelli had both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in theater and dreamed of acting on a TV show.

“I’ve always liked to perform and this was a perfect opportunity to do a TV show,” she said. “How often do you get a chance to do that?”

The flyer required applicants to send in a tape demonstrating their voice range. She had previously done the voice of the mascot at the Denton Public Library.

The call was put out by Funimation, an entertainment and licensing company located near Fort Worth, Texas. The company was looking for actors to hire for the English dubbing of the popular Japanese anime series, Dragon Ball Z. Several of the show’s English cast, including Antonelli, were either students or graduates from UNT. Upon finding out she had been hired to the DBZ cast, she was ecstatic.

“I was so excited. I was like ‘wow’, this is such a great opportunity,” she said.

Dubbing for an anime series adds an extra layer to voice acting since its dialogue was originally written in a different language. Actors have to match their dialogue to the moving mouths of characters that were originally speaking in a different language on screen.

“It’s actually quite complicated,” she said. “You have a line you have to say, there’s a certain amount of time you have to say it, and you have to present a certain emotion that all syncs up with the lips.”

Antonelli said the pay she received from her voice work was not enough to get by, so she kept her job as a librarian at UNT. She drove an hour from Denton after work to do recordings for the show every week or two for two to three hours at Funimation’s studios. After being let in by the janitor late at night, she sat in a recording booth and was often directed by Christopher Sabat, another original DBZ voice cast member who’s still actively involved with the series.

“It’s a very lonely profession,” she said. “It’s like a confessional in there. It’s just you in the booth with the script and the director.”

Antonelli’s favorite part about working on the Dragon Ball series was the overall fun and creativity that came with the job.

“It was fun to be associated with a project like that. I really liked my characters and their relationships they have with other characters. Like Puar and Yamcha—Chiaotzu and Tien,” she said.

The main characters Antonelli voiced were Puar, a shape shifting creature, and Chiaotzu, a centuries-old fighter. She used a squeaky voice for Puar and a boyish one for Chiaotzu. In season one of DBZ, Chiaotzu sacrifices himself and dies for his friends during a fight in episode 19. Antonelli said the scene was her finest work as a voice actor.

“It was emotional and so dramatic,” she said.

The scene demonstrated the amount of exclamatory sounds that Antonelli’s voice work asked her to do. As an action franchise revolving around fighting, each Dragon Ball series is full of grunts, yells and screams.

“You had to go ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ for long periods of time,” she said.

Antonelli was part of DBZ’s voice cast when it was cancelled in the late 90s and part of its revival in the early 2000s when it became a part of American pop culture. Following DBZ, she continued to lend her voice as Puar and Chiaotzu to other Dragon Ball series and for several of the Dragon Ball Z: Budokai video games.

“There was a time when people asked for my autograph and I enjoyed that,” she said.
Antonelli left her job at Funimation and moved to Minnesota in 2007 for several reasons. She had a desire to move north, wanted to move to a blue state, and wanted to protect her future health. Fracking was increasing where she lived in Denton and it was jeopardizing her health.

She said she would go back to voice acting “in a minute.”

“I wish I could do it again. It was so much fun. There was no pressure and you didn’t have to memorize anything,” she said.

Even though she left her voice work behind her, she said she enjoys talking about it. In fact, she occasionally receives messages from aspiring voice actors seeking advice.

“I encourage people to take any opportunity they can get. That’s what I did,” she said.

Photo: Librarian Monika Antonelli was given a signed poster by her colleagues while doing voice-over work for Dragon Ball Z. (Yohanes Ashenafi/The Reporter)

Gabe Hewitt

Gabe is a junior mass media student at MSU. He’s usually up for anything. You can find him on Twitter (@gabehewitt) or you can email him at gabriel.hewitt@mnsu.edu.

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