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 the types of jobs that a seiyuu would normally do on a daily basis whether it is voice acting or playing with puppets. This week, we will be talking about seiyuu that survive, and sell in the industry. There are many who work towards reaching that imaginary brass ring but only so many get a hold of it and wear it too.
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There are countless seiyuu in the industry. Seiyuu GrandPrix usually has a yearly almanac featuring at least 1,000 of the biggest names in the industry, the cream of the crop if you will. Checking out online databases such as Wikipedia or what-not will get you around 4,000 but the actual number is at least over 10,000 or more. And even inside this 1,000 or so of them, how many of them actually can survive purely on their own seiyuu work? Probably around 300.
So how does a seiyuu survive? In this day and age it is not simply doing voice work and call it a day. You could have many roles and still be a nobody. In 2019, to be a seiyuu that survives, and ultimately sell, you’d have to have the most fans around not just Japan, but all around the world. Having the most Twitter followers, selling the most CDs, or even selling the most photobooks even. If you generate enough revenue, you’re considered the most popular or the most “sellable” and hence can actually make a living purely off of voice work.
So what separates the titans from everyone else?
Having a big agency backing you
It’s not exactly a requirement to have, but it really helps a seiyuu if they join a big enough seiyuu agency. If you’re in I’m Enterprise or Office Osawa, you’re probably good to go. Smaller ones such as Music Ray’n and Hibiki have a lot of regular jobs for their seiyuu so they come out strong as well. A big agency would mean that they have been in the industry long enough. And with that it comes with knowing more people. Knowing who to promote your newest and hottest seiyuu to will surely help them get that head start in their early years.
Some agencies such as 81 Produce have produced quite a number of popular seiyuu being a rare case. Unfortunately, some such as Aoni Production and Tokyo Actor’s Consumer’s Cooperative Society have such a large roster of seiyuu that sometimes it’s a lot harder to sell in these agencies with so many people vying for the same top spot.
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Show me the money maker
It is normal for seiyuu to appear in all sorts of anime, but just because you appear in many shows it doesn’t mean that you will survive in 2019. Instead, if a seiyuu were to appear in a long running franchise or a series spanning many years, they’re practically set. Easy examples would be the Gundam franchise, Shonen Jump adaptations, Precure franchise and so on.
Sure having that hit anime of the season now will pay the bills, but what if you were to be the lead of the next Gundam anime? You’d get royalties from the multiple re-airings, many video game adaptations, mobile game variants, movie adaptations, and so on. You’re practically set for life!
Outside of long running series, doing appearances at anime or game events really helps because it allows these seiyuu who normally only do voice work actually appear on stage. Having more appearances would increase the public’s familiarity and exposure to the seiyuu. And not just at events, even doing live shows on YouTube and the like (as many people call in this side of town “namas”) really helps.
Imagine a seiyuu that does 5 nama appearances in a week. Your face is practically being shown almost every day! I remember sometime around 2017 where seiyuu such as Marika Kouno (Silence Suzuka in Uma Musume: Pretty Derby) or Rika Tachibana (Sae Kobayakawa in THE [email protected] Cinderella Girls) were practically doing some sort of appearance basically every day of the week, whether it’s an event somewhere in Japan, a radio show or a nama about a franchise they’re tied to. Not only you’re making money basically every day but you get exposure to potential new fans at every opportunity!
I can sing too!
Sure doing appearances and voicing kids shows is great but in 2019, most seiyuu are also artistes. Having a solo singing career would further increase their stock in the market and bread in their bags. Seiyuu singing character songs for their anime has been a thing going for over 20 plus years already but nowadays, instead of singing a song for their character, they’re released from the shackles of their 2D selves sing in their own name.
So if you’re a great actor on the mic and even better singer on the microphone? Double income right there. Sometimes you even get to pair with your fellow colleagues and form a seiyuu unit that sings together- and even lasting years after the original franchise if your popularity stands the test of time. In recent years, some of the biggest concerts have mostly been filled with seiyuu artistes. The most recent Animax Musix and this year’s upcoming Animelo Summer Live are examples of these.
However, if they get a singing debut while not being that popular, it might even backfire on them too. The seiyuu fans in general are well aware of who’s doing well and those as much, so having a false push from sponsors and what-not might make the seiyuu lose fans due to it being forced down their throats. Sometimes the debuts might even be pushed out just because certain seiyuu are the in-thing right now and slowly fade out.
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Sora Tokui for one, has had huge success as Nico Yazawa in the Love Live! Series but is probably one of the last few members who has yet to have a solo debut. Or to be precise, she does not have plans to have a solo singing career.
Creating thyself is half the battle. Knowing thyself is the other half.
The most important thing a seiyuu have to do is to know oneself. If they know what their vision is in the industry, they would surely know the best way to move forward to achieving it is. As a seiyuu, the first and most important job of all is to well….voice characters. A seiyuu’s job is to be able to create characters. Creating characters that fits the narrative of the scenario, conversing with fellow seiyuus through saying their lines, making the job of voice acting simple sound like a perfectly normal human conversation. There’s so many seiyuu who do this so well it’s simply hard to pin down but Kana Hanazawa, Yuki Kaji, Ayane Sakura and Hiroshi Kamiya are some to name.
Again with this being 2019, sometimes having a great acting skill itself won’t always cut it. In the era of the internet and social media, there are so many forms of media that a seiyuu can use to further make themselves stand out.
Ai Kayano (Menma in Anohana) is well known for her love of Mat- I mean Alcohol, and has a YouTube channel based around it titled Kayanomi. Kotori Koiwai (Tomoka Tenkuubashi in The Idolmaster: Million Live!) has recently made a name for herself talking about her love of headphones and creating her own music at Comiket, and even forming a metal band. Masumi Asano (Sonsaku Hakufu in Ikkitousen) wrote a series of doujin works about life as a seiyuu, teaming up with Kenjiro Hata of Hayate no Gotoku fame. And of course, my personal favorite combination of Yuichi Nakamura and Tomokazu Sugita on Tokyo Encount just sitting down and rambling about every small detail of video games, it’ll make you replay them just to notice it was there in the first place.
Of course, it is not my place to judge how a seiyuu should work to make it in the industry, or what makes someone sell but this is purely just an idea of what I feel based on numerous books and articles I’ve read and personal experience. Sorry for the month delay of The Art of Seiyuu due to personal commitments overseas but we’re back and fully scheduled to return every Tuesday so check back in!