Seiyū: when voice actors become idols

This is the third blog post of a series on the occasion of ‘100 Years of Anime’. Read the first post here and the second one here.

A major difference between anime and manga is the representation of dialogue: in manga it’s written in speech bubbles, whereas in anime it’s human speech recorded and played back as part of the audio track. It’s important to bear in mind that dialogue in anime is still only a representation of a fictional dialogue – we can’t actually hear an anime character’s voice; what we hear is merely an actor speaking lines in a recording studio.

That being said, individual voice actors contribute a great deal towards our perception of a character through his or her voice, in addition to scriptwriters and directors on the one hand and the dialogue director (a.k.a. Automated Dialogue Replacement (ADR) director) on the other hand. And just as with theatre actors and film actors, the distinction between voice actors and the characters they portray gets blurred in the imagination of some viewers, which is probably why the latter develop an interest in voice actors as the ‘actual people’ behind the characters.

In contrast to voice actors in other countries, Japanese seiyū cater to this public interest and, in addition to their voice acting, often become pop singers, TV actors, radio show hosts, or generally ‘media personalities’, and some even become idols. If you’d like to get a more complete picture of a seiyū and his or her media appearances, try the following procedure: look up the voice actor you’re interested in on MyAnimeList (via the entry for the anime in which you’ve come across him or her), then enter his or her name in YouTube. Search for both the romanised and the kanji form of the name, as they will often lead to different results. Here are some examples of what you might discover (some of which might have been uploaded illegally, mind you):

  • Yumi Uchiyama is a prolific seiyū in her late twenties who is currently perhaps most famous for having voiced the cat spirit, Puck, in Re:Zero, although personally I found her performance as Top Speed, a cackling witch in Magical Girl Raising Project, more memorable. She also performed many anime theme songs – here’s a live performance of “Next Legend” (written by ZAQ) from the Saki Achiga-hen anime:
  • Hiroshi Kamiya is a veteran voice actor who has performed in a staggering number of famous anime such as One Piece and Attack on Titan, but also in less well-known anime like Fune wo Amu in which his mischievous supporting character provides a striking contrast to the earnest protagonist. Together with his colleague Daisuke Ono, Kamiya hosts a radio show called Dear Girl Stories of which there are episodes with English subtitles:
  • Konomi Kohara is the youngest of the three and has starred in her second main role (in Tsuki ga Kirei) only this year, so there’s not much on YouTube except for this one talk show appearance that was uploaded multiple times. It’s hard to figure out what they’re talking about if you’re not fluent in Japanese (no subtitles here), but at least you can hear how similar Kohara’s way of speaking is to her very natural-sounding, sometimes ‘breathless’ voice acting performance in Tsuki ga Kirei: