Being a voice actor, or seiyuu in Japanese, used to simply be defined as a job using one’s voice for anime, foreign movies, or narration. However, these days it is a job that includes singing, live performances, dance performances, idol activities and so on. While voice acting careers have become diversified in Japan, we wonder what the desirable qualities and skills for the job are.
Our friends at Anime!Anime! conducted an interview with Yukio Nagasaki and Yoshitada Fukuhara. Nagasaki is the director of voice actor and actor training institution Yaoyorozu Voice Lab. He trains aspiring actors and voice actors as an instructor. Fukuhara is an anime producer at Yaoyorozu.
Nagasaki is an indispensable sound director for anime works which feature singing. His recent works include the Love Live! series and King of Prism. He became the director of Yaoyorozu Voice Lab and works hard to train aspiring voice actors.
Fukuhara is an anime producer at anime studio Yaoyorozu, which is known for such works as Kemono Friends and Love Rice. He is also the CEO of S-TAR7 which runs Yaoyorozu Voice Lab. He is an up-and-coming producer right on the anime and voice-acting front lines.
We invited these two key figures working at the forefront of the anime industry and asked about the real nature of voice acting, the qualities of a professional voice actor, as well as what aspects Yaoyorozu Voice Lab value.
[Interview and Composition by Eiwa Ishijima]
The voice acting job even idols long for
What are your thoughts regarding the career that is voice acting?
The job of a voice actor involves not only voice performances, but the voice actor must also appear at events in the flesh and sing and dance. Such events have been rapidly increasing. I feel the interest of aspiring voice actors is also shifting towards these activities.
When I began my career in the anime industry, the voice-acting industry had also begun to widen its scope. I think that’s why I don’t have a fixed idea as to what the voice acting career consists of. I am more focused on their personalities while producing anime works. However, some voice actor agencies have complained saying, ‘Isn’t this unrelated to voice-acting?’ Sometimes I struggled to explain the idea to them, as there is still a fixed idea that voice actors are there only to do just that- act with their voice.
It’s interesting to hear your two points of view: Nagasaki who got involved in voice acting before the job scope changed, and Fukuhara who joined the anime industry when it was changing.
The change in the careers of voice actors started from anime magazines.
What do you mean by that?
Between the middle of the 1990s and the early 2000s, anime magazines featured voice actors, and the features became popular. So they would publish special voice actor editions of the magazines with the VAs on the covers. These magazines sold fast. Many magazines and photo books of voice actors were published and anime production companies followed the trend and started to feature voice actors for their events. I think that’s how the voice acting job expanded.
To put it differently, the scope of voice acting changed to meet anime fans’ expectations.
Exactly. Aspiring voice actors are more interested in live shows and other unconventional jobs than voice acting, or rather they prefer doing these jobs. Many anime schools producing animators have voice acting courses these days.
While the scope of voice acting is shifting, have your requests for voice actors changed as a sound director and a producer of anime who is working with voice actors?
Originally, the voice acting job developed as a part of the job of an actor. Therefore, voice actors used to learn their skills while rehearsing onstage. The essence of voice acting was ‘play the role’ back then.
You just said that the essence of voice acting was ‘play the role’. Do voice actors today have the same mind?
I feel today’s voice actors tend to think of themselves as a performer with a face rather than as an actor without a face. I worry if they lack the vital element of their job in their mind – ‘play the role’. Most aspiring voice actors were people who loved to perform on the stage but didn’t have confidence in their looks until 15 years ago. Most of them are now people who want to sing and dance on stage wearing cute costumes. In short, people who want to become idols.
Why do aspiring idols want to become voice actors?
You’re more likely to sell out the Budokan [NB: a live arena in Japan which all musical performers aspire to] if you are a voice actor rather than a solo idol. Idols are usually a member of a group of 5 to 10, and only an idol who is successful can become a solo singer. Becoming a popular voice actor seems a quick route to becoming a solo singer.
Even some idols who belong to top-class idol groups express their desire to become voice actors.
Voice acting: the job which has the most demands
Is there any difference in the skills found in idols and voice actors?
Voice actors most importantly need the skills to act with only their voice, whereas many idols don’t have that skill. On the other hand, idols have a strong sense of presence, an aura about them. That is their incredible strength. If they learned voice acting skills, existing voice actors would be no match for them, especially as appearance is now such a vital part of a voice actor’s work.
Managers of talent agencies have a responsibility to create a sense of presence for the idols. Each idol has a manager who coaches him or her, such as how they should look and behave, what they must learn and do, and other small things on a daily basis. That’s how they create the presence of idols. Whereas in voice actor agencies, a manager is responsible for a few voice actors, so it’s impossible for them to give detailed coaching on a one-on-one basis.
The same thing applies to training. In most training schools and vocational colleges for voice actors, students are taught in large classes. Just like in mainstream school, they try to bring the average of classes up and isolate students who are strange or unique. However, we don’t want average voice actors. We want a voice actor who is different and we don’t mind if the person is strange. They must bring out the students’ individuality.
Having said that, there are some people who catch a great deal of attention on YouTube and other streaming services such as SHOWROOM. I think they are great for people who can produce themselves as you know the reactions from others in numbers.
I think it might be that voice acting which has the most demands in the world of show business, because the actors are expected to be able to sing and dance, and have good looks and a unique personality as well as an ability of self-producing, apart from their basic skills of voice acting.