Voice acting in Japan has far greater prominence than in most other countries. Japan's large animation industry produces 60% of the animated series in the world; as a result Japanese voice actors or seiyū (声優) are able to achieve fame on a national level.
Besides acting as narrators and actors in radio plays, and performing voice-overs for non-Japanese movies and television programs, the seiyū are extensively employed as character actors in animes and video games. Popular seiyū, especially female ones such as Kikuko Inoue, Megumi Hayashibara, Aya Hirano, Aya Hisakawa, Mitsuki Saiga, Nana Mizuki, Paku Romi and Kugimiya Rie, often have devoted international fanclubs. Some fans may watch a show merely to hear a particular seiyū. Some Japanese voice actors have capitalized on their fame to become singers, and many others became live movie or television actors.
In Japan there are around one hundred and thirty voice-acting schools. Broadcast companies and talent agencies often have their own troupes of vocal actors. Magazines focusing specifically on seiyū are published in Japan, with Voice Animage being the most well known and longest running.
The English term character voice (or CV), has been commonly used since the 1980s by Japanese anime magazines such as Animec and Newtype, for a voice actor associated with a particular anime or game character. Conversely, the Japanese term seiyū is commonly used among English-speaking anime and game fans for Japanese voice actors.
Actors and seiyūEdit
Initially, dubbing and doing voice-overs was a performance of an actor who used only his voice. When doing this job, they would be called "voice actors" (声の俳優, koe no haiyū?). For convenience, the term was shortened to a new compound consisting of the first and last kanji to make seiyū (声優?). It was only after the seiyū booms however that this word became widespread. For this reason, elderly voice actors resent being called seiyū, because during their time the term had a different (and minimizing) connotation. The renowned Chikao Ōtsuka, who dubbed Charles Bronson among others, was quoted in a special issue of Animage saying "We are actors. Even if a performance only requires the use of our voice, we still remain actors, and it is therefore incorrect to refer to us as just voice actors, isn't it?". He was opposed to the new trend of separating actors and seiyū, even in the face of emerging seiyū like Genzō Wakayama, who learned how to act using their voice and never set foot in a theater.
There are three main factors that set seiyū and actors apart.
- Their professional upbringing by the Tokyo Broadcasting Drama Troupe (東京放送劇団, Tōkyō Hōsō Gekidan?), formed by NHK and other private networks during the golden age of radio dramas.
- The increasing popularity of the television: due to the lack of Japan-made movies and dramas, TV networks were forced to air foreign shows, and that raised demand for seiyū.
- The boom in the anime world market, which produced a wave of young talents who wanted to become seiyū rather than actors.
Voice acting has existed in Japan since the advent of radio. It was only in the 1970s that the term seiyū entered popular usage because of the anime Space Battleship Yamato. According to a newspaper interview with a voice talent manager, "Since the Yamato boom, the word 'seiyū' has become instantly recognized, before that actors and actresses who introduced themselves as seiyū were often asked, 'You mean you work for Seiyu supermarket?'" 
The radio drama eraEdit
In 1925, the Tokyo Broadcasting Company (predecessor to the NHK, Japan's public broadcasting system) started radio broadcasts. In that same year, twelve students who were specializing in voice-only performances became the first voice actors in Japan when a performance of a radio drama was broadcast. They referred to themselves as seiyū, but in those days the term "radio actor" (ラジオ役者, radio yakusha?) was used by newspapers to refer to the profession.
In 1941 NHK opened a training program to the public to prepare actors to specialize in radio dramas.This was called the "Tokyo Central Broadcasting Channel Actor Training Agency" (東京中央放送局専属劇団俳優養成所, Tōkyō Chūō Hōsō Kyoku Senzoku Gekidan Haiyū Yōsei Sho?). Then in 1942, the Tokyo Broadcasting Drama Troupe debuted its first performance. This was the second time that the term "seiyū" was used to refer to voice actors.
There are several theories as to how the term "seiyū" was coined. One theory is that Oyhashi Tokusaburo, a reporter for the Yoimuri Newspaper, coined the term. Another theory is that Tatsu Ooka, an entertainment programming managing producer for the NHK came up with the term.
At first, seiyū, like those at the Tokyo Radio Drama Troupe and similar companies specialized in radio dramas; with the advent of television, the term took on the additional meaning of one who does dubbing for animation. Television broadcasting aside, when radio was the leading mass medium, actors who played in radio dramas were not without their fans; for example, actors in the Nagoya Radio Drama troupe who played the lead love interest roles often received many fan letters.
1960s: first seiyū boom periodEdit
In 1961, during the early days of commercial television broadcasting, the Five-Company Agreement (Gosha Agreement) caused the supply of Japanese movies that were available to Japanese television stations to dry up. As a result, in the 1960s many foreign dramas and other foreign programming was imported and dubbed into Japanese language for television broadcast.
At first, the NHK subtitled most foreign shows; however, shows dubbed in the Japanese language soon became the standard. This increased the popularity of seiyū. At the center of the first seiyū boom were actors like Nachi Nozawa, who gained fame by dubbing the same foreign actors, in Nozawa's case Alain Delon, Robert Redford, and Clint Eastwood. Because of problems with pay guarantees arising from the Gosha Agreement, cinema actors were prevented from dubbing foreign movies for television. Television actors were also prevented from dubbing because of a similar agreement. This caused studios to turn to actors from the radio age and actors from the Shingeki style of acting. Around this time dubbing of foreign animation was done by Rakugo story tellers, Asakusa comedians, and the like, and seiyū were called "dubbing talents" if they specialized in dubbing, while those giving voice to a character went under the name of "ateshi". It is during this golden age for dubbing that the Tokyo Actors Cooperative Haikyo was founded. Later, Haikyo seiyū managers left and opened their own management agencies.
The first dubbed show broadcast in Japan was an episode of the American cartoon Superman, on October 9, 1955, on KRT (today TBS), and the first non-animated dubbed show broadcast was Cowboy G-Men, again by KRT, in 1956. Both were dubbed live; the first show to be broadcast with pre-recorded dubbing was The Adventures of Television Boy (テレビ坊やの冒険, Terebi Bōya no Bōken?) on April 8, 1956.
1970s: second seiyū boom periodEdit
During the late 1970s, the boom in the animation world allowed seiyū of attractive male anime characters to become popular. Akira Kamiya, Tōru Furuya and Toshio Furukawa were the first to unite into a band, Slapstick, and perform live. Many other seiyū released their own albums. In 1979, radio programs featuring seiyū as DJs such as Animetopia became widely popular, and at around the same time the first anime magazines began to be published. The then editor-in-chief of Animage, Hideo Ogata, was the first to publish editorials on the ongoing transformation of seiyū into idols. Following his lead, the other magazines created "seiyū corners" with information and gossip about seiyū; this was one of the main causes of young anime fans yearning to become seiyū. This led to a sudden increase in the number of students in seiyū specialized schools. For the first time, anime seiyū were young people who grew up dreaming to become that, as opposed to being members of drama troupes or theatre actors who performed as a hobby. This boom lasted until the first half of the 1980s.
1980s: an interim periodEdit
In 1989 the seiyū of the five main stars of the animated television show Ronin Warriors (Nozomu Sasaki, Takeshi Kusao, Hiroshi Takemura, Tomohiro Nishimura and Daiki Nakamura) formed an all-male singing group called "NG5". The group became popular, to the extent that it was featured as the subject of a special documentary program on MBS. The popularity of NG5, however, did not spread to other seiyū groups.
In this period seiyū production companies also began to provide specialized courses at on-site training schools specifically for training in animation dubbing.
1990s: third seiyū boom periodEdit
The 1960s and 1970s booms were centered around media, such as the TV. In the 1990s a new boom centered around more personal ways of communication, such as radio shows, Original Video Animation, television quizzes, public events and the Internet, gave way to the publication of the first seiyū-specialized magazines, Seiyū Grand Prix and Voice Animage. Seiyū acquired a score of new fans thanks to the radio, and their CD sale figures increased. Concerts began to be held in the bigger halls. While the second boom also saw the seiyū become popular as DJs, this time the recording houses backed the seiyū radio shows as sponsors, and large sums of money began to circulate. Megumi Hayashibara, Hekiru Shiina and Mariko Kōda are the first examples of this new trend. Recording companies and seiyū schools began to devise new ways to raise young seiyū to nation-wide popularity.
When voice acting was introduced in television games, the existence of seiyū became known throughout the entire country. As a consequence, the same seiyū would perform in a series of events related to the television game world, making appearances and participating in radio programs based on the television games to attract the fanbase.
In the second half of the 1990s, the boom in the animation world led to the increase of anime shown in the Tokyo area. With the Internet, gathering information on their favourite seiyū became easy for fans, and seiyū began to appear in Internet-based radio shows.
Five ways to become a seiyūEdit
By looking at the career of today's most popular seiyū, the majority of them became famous treading one of the following five paths.
From broadcasting drama troupe memberEdit
Trained by broadcasting drama troupes, they specialized in roles requiring voice acting other than announcing, particularly radio drama acting.
Examples of seiyū coming from privately funded drama troupes are Tōru Ōhira and Tadashi Nakamura from the Tokyo Radio Broadcasting Drama Troupe (ラジオ東京放送劇団, Rajio Tōkyō Hōsō Gekidan?)), Junpei Takiguchi, Nobuo Tanaka, Mariko Mukai.
Local broadcasting stations also helped many seiyū in the early stages of their careers, before the television age and the advent of foreign drama series concentrated most of the seiyū business in the Tokyo area. Some examples include the aforementioned Genzō Wakayama from NHK's Sapporo Broadcasting Drama Troupe (札幌放送劇団, Sapporo Hōsō Gekidan?), Kenji Utsumi from NHK's Kyūshū Broadcasting Drama Troupe (九州放送劇団, Kyūshū Hōsō Gekidan?)) and Jōji Yanami from RKB's Mainichi Broadcasting Drama Troupe (毎日放送劇団, Mainichi Hōsō Gekidan?)).
From child actorEdit
Some seiyū are middle-school children who joined juvenile theatrical companies (Himawari Company, Komadori Group) and honed their acting skills with them, then took up a career as full-time seiyū after graduating from high school.
The first to follow this path include Ryūsei Nakao, Tōru Furuya, Shūichi Ikeda, Yoku Shioya, Hiromi Tsuru, Miina Tominaga and Katsumi Toriumi (the first two debuting while still in middle-school but continuing only after graduating).
There have been cases of young people who started appearing in seiyū roles while still in middle-school. Miyu Irino, Eri Sendai, Ayaka Saitō, Aya Hirano, Subaru Kimura and Miyū Tsuzurahara are a few examples.
From theatre actorEdit
Sometimes theatre actors, whether they be in high school, specialization schools, university or having just graduated, are scouted by people in the anime industry to become seiyū. This happens to actors affiliated with the major Shingeki theatre companies, which include the Bungaku Company, the Seinen Company, the Troupe Pleiades, the Theatrical Group EN and Theatre Echo. Actors performing in minor theatres may sometimes be spotted by the theatre's sound production staff or by managers affiliated with seiyū management agencies. It is also common for actors affiliated with seiyū-led theatre companies, such as Nachi Nozawa's Rose Company or Kaneta Kimotsuki's 21st Century Fox Company, to become seiyū themselves.
To name a few, Romi Park, spotted by animation creator Yoshiyuki Tomino, Fumiko Orikasa, graduated from the Super Eccentric Theatre, and talents discovered in local college theatre groups by Kazuya Tatekabe: Sanae Kobayashi, Gō Aoba, Tetsu Shiratori, Akino Murata and Rieko Takahashi.
Worthy of note is Hitomi Nabatame's career. Shortly after entering the Dorikan Club, a group of seiyū in the making, part of the aniradio program SOMETHING DREAMS Multimedia Countdown (SOMETHING DREAMS マルチメディアカウントダウン, SOMETHING DREAMS Maruchimedia Kauntodaun?, shortened to ドリカン Dorikan) on radio station Nippon Cultural Broadcasting, she showed so much potential that she earned herself a role in Maburaho right after graduating from the seiyū training school she was attending, while also performing as theatre actress.
From seiyū training school studentEdit
Many seiyū made their debut after attending seiyū training schools for several years after graduating from high school, specialization schools or university, or even just between school terms, and learned the trade by observation. This is the path most young people who watch anime and want to become a seiyū take. This is probably the easiest path at its beginning, but breakthrough chances are very slim. For example, each school affiliated with the Yoyogi Animation Academy has a seiyū talent department with hundreds of new students each year, but only a very small minority of them manage to become a seiyū after graduating. Many who do not make it enter a different seiyū training school and try again.
People who made it in the past include Megumi Hayashibara, Kaneto Shiozawa, Kōichi Yamadera, Kikuko Inoue, Kotono Mitsuishi and Toshiyuki Morikawa. More recent examples are Ai Shimizu, Rie Tanaka, Yukari Tamura, Mai Nakahara and Kenichi Suzumura.
Some young talents became seiyū after winning nation-wide contests held by magazines or production companies (although they still usually had to attend seiyū training schools after winning the contest to learn the trade). Winners include Asami Sanada, Masumi Asano, Yui Horie, Miyuki Sawashiro and Sakura Nogawa.
From a different role in the entertainment worldEdit
Junko Iwao and Noriko Hidaka are examples of idols who later took up seiyū roles (the latter having some experience as a child actress). Former "gravure idols" (bikini models) who made a breakthrough as seiyū include Marina Ōno, Ryōka Yuzuki and Chiemi Chiba. Yumi Kakazu and Yuki Matsuoka are two former reporters turned seiyū. Retired owarai sometimes made a comeback as seiyū, like Yūko Saitō. Yūichi Nagashima was very popular as an actor in the role of "Chō", the main character in NHK Educational TV's Exploring My Town (たんけんぼくのまち, Tanken Boku no Machi?)). Masakazu Morita and Mayuko Aoki, both debuted as the lead characters of Final Fantasy X, are motion actors for video games turned seiyu. Mamoru Miyano was one of the cast in the Prince of Tennis live musicals who chose to branch out and become a seiyū. Tokusatsu actors/actresses also took seiyu roles before or after their careers in Tokusatsu. Examples are the late Machiko Soga, Naoya Uchida, Tsutomu Isobe, Jouji Nakata, Rikiya Koyama, Reiko Chiba, Hiroshi Tsuchida, Yuji Kishi, Masaya Matsukaze, Takeru Shibaki and Mika Kikuchi.
Voice-over and dubbingEdit
This is the core of the seiyū's job: speaking a role and recording it.
A seiyū's role in anime consists of timing the recording of their character's voice with the picture on the screen. Before completing the recording of the role, there are two different methods of prescoring. In Japan, the most popular method is to perform the dubbing after the animation has already been completed (although, depending on the production schedule, the dubbing may be recorded before all of the animation is complete).
In order to keep to the limits of the production budget, less well-known and younger seiyū are often used. However, for original video animation and fan-oriented productions and products, famous seiyū are often used as a selling point.
Dubbing into JapaneseEdit
In the case of foreign dramas, movies, animated cartoons, news and documentaries, the localization voice-over requires more exact timing in relation to what appears on the screen. In order to perform voice-overs, the volume of the original language voice track is lowered, leaving only a faint sound remaining or, in some cases, no sound at all except for the music-and-effects tracks. Voice-over work is primarily performed for news and original foreign dramas. Auditions are held in order to determine who will take on the roles.
Unlike in anime or dubbing roles, in a video game the voice tracks are often recorded separately due to the way individual voice tracks are selected and played depending on a player's progress. Typically a seiyū uses a script with only a single part's lines and matches it to the timing of the recording. Because of this, many collaborating seiyū in a production have never seen each other in person. Popularity rankings may play a role in video game casting, but it is also possible to negotiate fees when a client requests a particular cast.
Radio drama or CD dramaEdit
With a radio drama or CD drama there is more freedom given in voicing because there is no need to match a dub to the original actors, or to match an animated character. Because of this a seiyū's particular interpretation of an act or acting ability are considered. If the drama is based on an anime or manga then the seiyū from the anime are used. However, original drama or works based on literature rarely employ typical seiyū or younger seiyū. Auditions are rarely employed, and the cast is directly selected by the production staff.
Puppet and kigurumi showsEdit
In puppet shows, the seiyū must time the voice-over in relation to the puppet movements. While timing is of the essence in kigurumi shows as well, in this case the seiyū's voice acting is recorded beforehand, and it is left to the kigurumi entertainer to move and act based on the spoken lines.
Seiyū are also commonly employed as narrators in radio and television commercials, radio and television programs, press release videos and other kinds of media that require the voice actor to read text that clarifies what the program is about from a script. Even though the narration role falls within a seiyū's area of expertise, it is not uncommon for popular regular actors, young talents or announcers to be chosen instead. The fee is proportional to the popularity of the person employed, and veterans are usually preferred for this role due to the high acting ability it requires. Candidates are required to send a short sample recording as a demonstration, and these samples play a large part in the selection process.
It is not uncommon for Shingeki actors and actors performing in small theatres to take a voice acting course in specialized schools and become seiyū, considering the small difference between actor and seiyū. Those who successfully become seiyū sometimes take stage acting roles of their own choosing, and the seiyū's agency takes no part unless the theatre management requires it.
Some seiyū branch into music, releasing albums in their own name and becoming full-time singers.
However, it has become common for seiyū to sing the opening or closing themes of shows in which their character stars, or participate in non-animated side projects such as audio dramas (involving the same characters in new storylines) or image songs (songs sung in character that are not included in the anime but further develop the character), releasing CDs in the character's name rather than their own. Sometimes the singing style of an anime character is quite different from that of the seiyū, and tracks sung using the style of the character are often included in CDs the seiyū release in their own name. This made singing a central activity for many seiyū, especially the ones who do voice-overs for anime characters.
The limitations imposed on singer seiyū by their recording companies are also less strict than the ones imposed on regular singers. This allows seiyū to release CDs in their character's name with different companies.
Radio talks (so called aniradio) further extend seiyū popularity. Initially the vast majority was aired by local broadcast stations only, but after the communication boom of the 1990s the metropolitan radio stations began to also employ them. While such programs last only as long as the anime or game is popular (usually no more than one year), some aired for over ten years due to their popularity among fans, who regard radio talks as a way to get to know the seiyū as human beings rather than just voices for the characters they play.
Due to lower costs and the increase in the number of listeners, more and more of these radio talks are hosted on the Internet.
Apart from other performances related to the characters they play, such as press conferences, anime news programs or interviews, seiyū are also hired for company-internal training videos, supermarket announcements, bus route information broadcasts, ring announcers for professional wrestling and other fighting disciplines, and even train station route announcements - tasks usually performed by professional announcers, even though the seiyū's employment or name are not always made public.
Agencies and managementEdit
Relations between seiyū and music, movie and anime companies in Japan are regulated by seiyū management agencies, each with its specialization. In exchange for a fee from the seiyū, they take care of the business affairs and sales promotions. These agencies can also act as a bridge between entertainment companies and private agencies the seiyū may be affiliated with. Sometimes the producers leave it to the agencies to recruit seiyū for minor roles, or handle their schedule.
Seiyū for child roles are sometimes selected from renowned juvenile theatrical companies, such as the Troupe Himawari. In most cases, adult female seiyū play child roles.