I want to become a voice actor!
As they breathe life into characters, voice actors (known as seiyuu in Japanese) are absolutely essential to the animation world. There are many veteran voice actors who are capable of transforming their voices into young boys, girls, or even the elderly!
It’s something that many anime-lovers dream of becoming, but just what do voice actors do? And there must be many people who are wondering how to become a voice actor, right?
If you love anime like Girlish Number, and your dream is to lend your voice to fictional characters then keep on reading. Let’s try to answer some of your questions!
The Various Jobs of a Voice Actor
Most voice actors these days use their talent in many different sectors. They can lend their voices in radio shows, video game characters, audio book narrations, foreign language dubbing, and stage performances. They are also needed in trailers and advertisements. Wherever there is a need for a voice, there is also the need for a voice actor!
Popular voice actors are not spending all their time in anime recording studios. They are also busy recording CDs and getting interviewed and photographed for magazines, much like regular pop idols. They also have so many release events and concerts to attend that famous voice actors like Hiroshi Kamiya have said that they are so busy they have no private time whatsoever.
With the rise of internet and social media, voice actors are needed more than ever. You are likely to find voice actors in more places now that you would have had in the past.
How Can You Become a Voice Actor?
There are many paths to becoming a voice actor. Let’s see the three most popular ways.
1. Enroll in a specialist school with a voice acting course
In Japan there are many schools that specialise in anime, such as Human Academy and Yoyogi Animation Academy.
What makes these schools especially appealing is the fact that as a specialist school (senmon gakko in Japanese), age is not a prerequisite for entry. It is fine to enter after graduating high school, or even after graduating university or after getting a job. As long as you pass the entrance exam then you can enrol.
As you follow the curriculum you will dabble in many different subjects designed to improve your knowledge and abilities.
After graduation, you are expected to audition for the training school of a talent agency. The voice acting industry is highly competitive and the chances of becoming very successful are very slim. It’s not uncommon for people to change their minds while still in training. They usually quit and try to pursue a different career. But, on the other hand, you have to start low, so don’t give up on your dreams!
2. Start from the bottom of a theatre troupe, etc. and look for a chance to work in voice acting
This is the straight-to-experience approach. You start by getting a job (any job) in a theatre troupe or a talent agency. Then you try to find work opportunities to show your incredible talent in voice acting while building your connections.
Recently, there have been performers with experience in the 2.5D world (e.g. live action stage performances based on anime etc) who have been offered work as voice actors for video games. There is also an idol from the group AKB, who desperately wanted to be a voice actor. She went on to appear in the AKB anime, and after graduation she successfully auditioned for voice acting roles (more about this later).
However, this pathway isn’t the regular road to voice acting specialization. I can’t recommend this method to anybody who thinks, ‘I just really, really, REALLY want to be a voice actor!’ This is a road better suited to people who already have a job as a regular actor or a pop idol or in a position close to the voice acting industry.
3. Enter the training school of a talent agency
Voice talent agencies have their own training school in which they try to breed the next stars of the industry. It’s a lot similar to sports academies.
The wannabe voice actor has to pass an entrance audition. If he is successful, he will be able to take voice acting lessons and become semi-affiliated with the company. That means more chances for casting auditions.
There are many types of training schools. Most of them belong to either of the following two categories: places who tell their members ‘It’s not for you so you should just quit’ and places where the members are exploited and made to sluggishly continue with their activities.
Like in every industry, it’s said that there are some immoral production agencies out there. It’s hard to be selective, but for those with real talent this may be the fastest route to their voice acting debut.
There are people who have debuted as voice actors in Japan by starting out abroad.
There are also many people who enter the entertainment world via online media such as YouTube and Twitter. Most people who achieve this know how to self-produce.
A good example of a voice actor who followed this path is the Russian voice actress Jenya.
For those of you who have a clear goal of becoming a voice actor, it is important to really keep on emphasising that point. At age 16 and inspired by the anime Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, she started up a Japanese language website where she uploaded covers of anime songs. She started to get more hits with every passing day, and first came to Japan in 2002. In 2005 she moved to Japan permanently, and started gaining exposure in the media. She has supervised the Russian translation for anime such as BLACK LAGOON, Kishin Taisen Gigantic Formula, The Quaser of Stigmata – Portrait of the Empress -, HELLSING X and EVANGELION:2.0 YOU CAN (NOT) ADVANCE.
A Cinderella Story of an Idol Shafted by Management
I am sure the Manga.Tokyo readers know of group AKB48, but have you heard of Amina Sato who went from a member of AKB to a top voice talent in the anime THE IDOLM@STER CINDERELLA GIRLS?
Amina Sato placed 8th in the very first AKB48 ‘Senbatsu General Election’*. Despite this amazing achievement, she appeared in the group’s music video for a mere one second. Although it was in the early days of the group, the screen time wasn’t good enough for an idol who had placed 8th in the General Election. She was just one place short of the so-called ‘Kami 7’**. She was never seen in TV appearances, and she was not in the front row during the groups concerts. The fans thought that this treatment was absolutely cruel.
*The Senbatsu General Election (senbatsu sosenkyo) is a yearly event where AKB48 fans vote for their favourite members. The highest placed idols are given more opportunities to appear in the group’s songs, music videos, and TV shows
** The Kami 7 (lit. ‘God 7’) is the nickname given to the AKB members who place in the top 7 in the General Election. These 7 idols are given top priority on the CD recordings, music videos and TV appearances.
Amina then appeared on the radio programme ‘AKB’s All Night Nippon’ and sharpened her talk skills to the point that she was able to appear on radio programmes on her own. Her fame as a member of AKB and as an idol may have been low, but she managed to become known for her radio talk skills and her anime-like voice.
In 2011, she was selected from around 200 members to be the voice of Ichijo Yuuka in the group’s anime AKB0048. Out of the nine main cast members, Amina’s talent really stood out.
At the end of 2013, she announced her graduation from AKB, with the reason being, ‘I want to be a Voice Actress’. She joined a voice acting agency in 2014.
In an ironic twist, Amina, who was shafted even after placing high in the AKB elections, was eventually cast in the anime THE IDOLM@STER CINDERELLA GIRLS after an election voted by the fans. Fans had to vote for ‘an unvoiced character who you want to be given a voice’. First place was taken by the character Arisa Tachibana and it was revealed that this role had been offered to Amina. Voice acting fans are not necessarily idol fans as well, and after the announcement Amina received a lot of bashing online. Cruel posts appeared with titles like, ’More of this AKB crap’, ‘Must be her AKB connections’, ‘Even though she’s just awful’. People brought up trivial scandals from her past to fan the flames of hate (in the past, tabloid magazines supposedly caught her attending matchmaking parties and drinking alcohol. Those kinds of activities were at the time prohibited by the AKB’s management agency).
Amina was determined to prove them wrong. She thoroughly researched the character of Arisu Tachibana. She believed that her role was ‘to breathe life into Arisu. I cannot disappoint the fans’. Thanks to her conviction and hard work, the bashing against her performance gradually lessened. In 2015, Amina unveiled her song as Arisu Tachibana at the live performance ‘THE IDOLM@STER CINDERELLA GIRLS 3rd LIVE Cinderella’s Ball – Power of Smile -‘. She received a huge applause; one that she could have never imagined during her time as an idol.
For Amina may have failed to become an idol, but the hard work she put into becoming a voice actor has really paid off. Today she is working as an anime seiyuu and as a narrator for TV commercials.
You Can Become A Seiyuu!
Especially in this age of Social Media where you can throw your online presence out there. The internet age is the perfect time to find the right way to reach your goal!
There are people who start their career as a hobby like Jenya, people who get into voice acting after having their dreams of being an idol crushed like Amina Sato, people who tirelessly do their best in an agency’s training school, people who switch to voice acting after working on stage, and so many more!
Talent and luck are important when it comes to success, but the first and most important thing is a desire to succeed and a determination to become better in your craft.
Voice actors are essential to any anime. Keep trying and one day you’ll definitely become the voice of a fan’s favorite character.