Welcome back to our series where we talk about Voice Acting, or Seiyuu, in Japan. Welcome to The Art of Seiyuu!
In our previous article, we talked about some things a seiyuu have to have or be able to do to survive in the industry. Only 300 out of possibly tens of thousands are able to survive purely on their voice work. From here onwards, we’re going to focus on individual seiyuu for each week.
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Every week, we will be featuring all sorts of seiyuu, from the up-and-comers in the industry all the way to the legends who have made their names over the years. As I said earlier, 300 or so makes the cut, and there are thousands who aspire to join this fabled 300. For our first coverage, we begin with a man who embodies the term seiyuu, the man who is the 1 in the 300. When you search the dictionary for the word “Seiyuu”, this person’s face shows up (hopefully).
Introducing: Koichi Yamadera!
Name: Koichi Yamadera (山寺 宏一)
Birthday: 17th June 1961
Birthplace: Miyagi Prefecture
Nicknames: Yama-chan, Bazooka Yamadera (Radio personality)
Agency: Across Entertainment
Yamadera graduated from the Tohoku Gakuin University Economics Department. He didn’t decide on wanting to become a performer until just before graduating from University. Before that, he always wanted to become a businessman for advertising agencies or travel agencies since he could do business with his voice. In the end, he felt that he really wanted to do work with his voice and landed a role as a narrator for a Rakugo CM in his hometown.
He’s famously known as “The Man whose voice holds Seven colors” in Japan due to his amazingly broad vocal range. He can do voices of a cool uncle, anything from a young to an old man, a hero to a villain, a joke character to a serious person, dubbing for foreign films and even any and all sorts of animals.
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During his younger years, Masako Nozawa mentioned that “he will surely grow.”
And not just that, with his huge range of voices, during casting he is also said to be called “When in doubt, Yamadera.” This name originally belonged to seiyuu Michio Hazama, who was also said to be able to fit in any role during casting hence “When in doubt, Hazama.” Hazama himself even said that Yamadera was “the second generation of me.” Yamadera too has frequently mentioned that Hazama was the seiyuu he respected most as well.
He made his debut in 1985 as a seiyuu with his role of Shinji Nakagawa in the anime Megazone 23. I myself have not seen Megazone 23 myself so I really cannot give a comment on this. However, they did mention there will be a remake in the near future. Let’s hope Yama-chan will be making an appearance in this version as well!
One show which recently aired in Asia was Theatrical Film City Hunter: Shinjuku Private Eyes. Yama-chan portrayed Shinji Mikuni in the film. He also recently portrayed Koichi Zenigata in the TV OVA Lupin the 3rd: Goodbye Partner earlier this year as well. He has been keeping himself busy with multiple TV appearances in Japan as well as performing in theatres across Japan. He took over the late Goro Naya for the role of Koichi Zenigata in 2011 when the latter passed away.
For a man with a thousand voices, where do you start to talk about his most defining roles? For this case, let me mention some of the most famous ones, along with some of my personal favorites of his.
Probably his most well-known role amongst fans outside of Japan, this is Spike Spiegel from Cowboy Bebop. He’s a quintessential anti-hero who only works for himself that dislikes, women, children and dogs who ends up growing to become the hero and tolerating those exact three things. Ask any Western fan of anime about who their favorite Yama-chan role is and they’ll more often than not say Spike. Cowboy Bebop is very iconic, especially in the West and this is definitely that one role for his outside of Japan. He has even seen a revival lately in Super Robot Wars T. (of which Yama-chan himself voices 4 characters!)
So everyone has a favorite role for seiyuus they like/follow/adore. When you ask me about Yama-chan, the first character that springs to my mind is easily Togusa from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. For an anime where the main squad comprises of characters with some form of cyberization, Togusa’s the one human element in the team. He was the greenest member of Section 9 at the beginning being the only guy who’s fully human and using an old outdated revolver, and with his own family to boot. This contrast between the rapidly evolving cybernetic team with Togusa’s humanity gives us something to relate to. And this could only really be done through Yama-chan’s acting ability.
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Unless you’re a Disney otaku in Japan or play Kingdom Hearts in Japanese, you probably didn’t see this coming. One of Yama-chan’s most celebrated roles is actually Donald Duck. Yes, THAT Donald Duck. Just take a listen to this video and hear his version of Donald Duck. I hope it’s not just me but it sounds eerily similar to his English voice actor, Tony Anselmo’s. I actually played Kingdom Hearts 3 entirely in Japanese this time round and while I am used to hearing English Donald, Japanese Donald is totally normal in my books.
Back in 1991, Yama-chan teamed up with Hidaka Noriko and Seki Toshihiko to form a unit called Banana Fritters, which eventually disbanded in 1995. To celebrate their 25th Anniversary, they made a sort of return in 2017 and released a compilation album along with their newest single titled Anone. And they even released a music video along with it.
Koichi Yamadera is the Dragon Quest of the Seiyuu industry. Why I say that is because like Dragon Quest, he’s basically a household name in Japan but probably not as huge outside of. True to that comment, if you asked Japanese people on the streets if they know Koichi Yamadera, at least 80% of them will say yes.
For a man who does basically everything and anything, what’s not to like? Voice acting, acting, dubbing all sorts of foreign film, TV appearances, narration, MC, and impressionist on Japanese variety shows on a yearly basis. This list goes on and on forever until he decides to hang his boots. I’ve seen a Variety show once where he mimics the latest popular Japanese comedians all in one skit and was completely blown away. Every time a new hit comes up, he’ll perfectly mimic that person.
I’m personally just impressed of his broad vocal range on top of his pure acting skill. Having the chops to act out your lines is no easy task in itself, but being able to manipulate your vocal chords, or whatever is inside your mouth just to be able to do anything takes the cake. And did I mention animals too? You could probably film an entire movie with Yama-chan voicing every character if you wanted to, even. He’s truly a wizard of the microphone.
I feel like his only weak point is that, I will never know what his real voice is. But that’s okay. Because…
When in doubt, Yamadera.
For someone who aspires to be in the industry, he’s our gold standard.
Earlier in the article I’ve mention that he voices Donald Duck. However, this isn’t the only Disney character he voices, with at least another 10 more Disney characters in his repertoire which you can also see in the above video. Recently however, during the release of the live-action version of Aladdin, he got to voice the Genie again. This time however, they got the actor of the live action version, Will Smith himself to sit down and talk to Yamadera!
Did you like the first coverage? Do share with us if you feel there could be improvements in this series of article!