What do Monkey D. Luffy from One Piece, Naruto Uzumaki from Naruto and Son Goku from Dragon Ball Z have in common? I am not talking about their strong personalities or their outstanding fighting abilities. No, what I am talking about is the fact that all of these characters are voiced by female voice actresses.
This shouldn’t be too shocking if you know that the world of seiyuu, Japanese voice acting, is almost as weird and incomprehensible as Japan’s culture itself. Working as a seiyuu means spending the best years of your life inside classrooms and practicing until late at night only to get an underpaid job that requires you to work harder than most other people. Still, all these struggles are worth it for people who dream to be a part of anime, video games and Co.
Allow me to introduce you to the world of seiyuu as I try to explain what it means to become a voice actor in Japan.
What is seiyuu?
Even though most successful seiyuu are connected to anime shows, their field of work is relatively broad. Many of them also do voice-overs for foreign movies and shows, read lines for video games or perform on radio and internet shows. Since Japan likes to be extreme at everything it does there are of course also fan clubs based around seiyuu. Especially female seiyuu actresses are treated as idols and often also perform in other areas of the entertainment industry.
In fact, some producers might be more interested in the seiyuu him- or herself than the actual anime character. Since many seiyuu have a loyal fanbase it is common to have solely fan-oriented shows that use the celebrity’s name to sell the product. So as you can see, being a voice-actor is a pretty big thing in Japan. But the journey to becoming a seiyuu is long and challenging and not everyone is able to fulfill their dreams.
How do you become a seiyuu?
Even though there are several different ways of becoming a seiyuu, most of them require you to enroll in specialized voice acting schools. They are usually vocational schools where high school graduates take classes for two years. Not only will students learn the art of voice acting, but also other important skills like manners, proper work ethics and sometimes even dancing or singing in case one wants to make it as an idol.
After that, joining a professional training school is generally the next step. This is where the real competition begins since these schools usually have production companies affiliated with them. This means that if you catch the eye of the professionals your dream of becoming a seiyuu might become reality.
However, this is only the theory behind becoming a seiyuu. If you are ready to take this path you need to realize that competition is high – very high – and even after taking all these classes and spending years of your life as well as tremendous amounts of money on your dream it is still hard to say whether you can actually become a seiyuu. On the other hand, there are also actors that did not go through this year-long process but might have joined from other parts of the entertainment industry. So it is really hard to say what you need to do in order to join the world of seiyuu.
Is it all worth it?
As I have already mentioned at the beginning, being a seiyuu is tough. It requires you to work on yourself for many years and even then it is never sure whether you will find a job or not. Being recognized by a production company also depends on luck and being at the right place at the right time. This means that many aspiring voice actors have to see competitors being selected even though they might not have put as much effort into getting the job as they did.
Even if you manage to get a job in the industry you should not expect a life of luxury and leisure. Seiyuu might be idolized in Japan but their salary isn’t nearly as glamorous as one might think. That’s why some seiyuu, especially young females, see themselves forced to do voice-overs for porn shows and similar movies.
All in all, the daily lives of seiyuu are tough and demanding. You really need to be ready to put all your effort into it if you want to achieve this dream.
To end on a more positive note being a seiyuu is also a lot of fun. You can see an anime or video game being produced and become a part of the creation process. Also, voice acting holds many surprises and work is usually more exciting than sitting in a dark office for hours on end. There are still so many reasons to become a seiyuu and every year more and more young people decide to take on the long journey of becoming one.
What are your thoughts on seiyuu? Even though they are an important part of Japanese culture they might not be that important or well-known abroad, so let us know what you think of Japanese voice acting. Your input is more than welcome in the comment section down below.