Anime is basically hand-drawn or computer-generated animation from Japan. A steadfast growth in popularity over the last decades throughout the West is increasing curiosity as to how it is created. Voice acting in anime, in particular, is an essential step in creating quality and successful anime. Anime voice actors, however, are not only an intrinsically valuable part of the process. They also become multifaceted entertainers in Japan, beloved by the public.
Some fans say that anime can be created outside of Japan. Most of them though, state that this would be anime-inspired works of animation, but not anime as such. We will concentrate on voice acting for the anime industry in Japan and on voice actors who dub such anime for Western audiences in English and other languages.
Listen to the TLDR (Too Long Didn’t Read) version of this article:
This post was updated on March 2021
What is Anime?
The earliest commercial forms of Japanese animation started in 1917, and since then anime has grown steadily. Around the 1960’s, however, anime began to acquire its characteristic style with the works of Osamu Tezuka. By the end of the 20th century, it had spread internationally.
The earliest surviving Japanese animation is Namakura Gatana (なまくら刀) also called Hanawa Hekonai meitō no maki (塙凹内名刀之巻) from 1917. It is a comic short about a samurai who buys a dull-edged sword and attempts to fight townspeople.
Today anime features exceptional graphic art, characterization, cinematography, editing, and many different genres. One particular characteristic which is well known is the use of large emotive eyes in some characters, though this is not necessarily a feature common to all animes. Indeed, many of Studio Ghibli’s animations don’t necessarily coincide with this typical version of anime. In fact, famous Studio Ghibli director Hayao Miyazaki has criticized animation in the industry, emphasizing the need for works that carry depth and not just graphic prowess. Anime is a big industry in Japan, with over 430 production studios in Japan. The most well-known studios are Studio Ghibli, Gainax and Toei Animation.
Learning Japanese fluently is a requirement for aspiring voice actors for Japan, naturally. Note, however, that there is a huge need for anime voice actors who are able to fluently speak other languages to dub or ‘revoice’ and localize anime for foreign markets. In particular, London, New York and Los Angeles are important centers for voice actors wishing to dub anime for the English-speaking world. Although these cities have a substantial amount of anime dubbing, there are important markets in other places too. Texas, for instance, is a phenomenal and rather underestimated market.
Anyone interested in going into anime voice acting would be wise to check out their own local market first. If interested in moving elsewhere, it is wise to investigate the peculiarities of the market where the person wishes to go beforehand.
What is an Anime Voice Actor?
There is an interesting distinction between anime voice actors in Japan and those in other countries that dub Japanese animation.
One may think that anime voice actors spend all their time in the studio, but this is far from the case in Japan. In fact many of them become famous, much like pop stars and are therefore expected to take part in a gamut of activities unknown to voice actors abroad: public appearances, singing and dancing to audiences, shows of various kinds etc. This is so because since the mid-1990’s there has been a growing culture of anime magazines that have catapulted anime voice actors to recognition nationwide. Famous voice actor Hiroshi Kamiya, for instance, has stated that he has no real private life. A far cry from the more shielded voice talent abroad.
In the West
Western voice actors who dub anime for Western audiences have a rather different lifestyle, though some will know a degree of fame from Western fans. If they are based in Japan, however, they may very well find themselves part of the entertainment culture, like Russian-born and well-known anime voice actor Jenya.
There are many anime voice actors of great recognition in Japan such as: Hiroshi Kamiya, Daisuke Ono, Mamoru Miyano, Kaji Yuki and Kenichi Suzumura. In the English-speaking world, some important anime voice actors are: Justin Briner, Kira Buckland, Ian Sinclair, Vic Mignogna, Christopher Sabat, Matthew Mercer and Laura Bailey.
What Anime Voice Actors Do?
Anime voice actors need a sense of presence and attitude in their voice. It is important to stress that their voices need not be beautiful in the classical sense. There is a need, of course, for that sort of voice but there is ample room in voice acting for people with voices that are unique. For example, there may be someone with a very hoarse and croaky voice. Well, that voice too is a great asset because it is unique to them. If such an asset is coupled with great technique in speaking, recitation and acting, therein may be a successful anime voice actor.
A voice actor is first and foremost, an actor. Their voice must have vocal range, sure. But, a voice actor must be a performer and will be served well by skills such as singing. Remember that anime involves a lot of screaming too! A full-body performance in the studio will often be the mark of a successful voice or dubbing.
When all is said and done, however, we have to remember that anime voice acting is a job. This means several things you need to know if you are planning on becoming one:
Prepare to get Very Tired:
Indeed, a lot of anime involves fight sequences and this means, of course, a lot of screaming. This is very rough on a voice actor, naturally, and generates tremendous fatigue.
Put in the Time:
Anime voice acting will demand time. Hours and hours of voice acting, just like any other job. Since this job puts such stress on the vocal cords, hours per day are obviously limited, but it is certainly not a picnic.
All About the Fans:
Interaction with fans is most common in Japan but in Western countries, it is not unusual for fans to take an interest in the voice actors of their favorite characters. Gratefulness and empathy with fans upon meeting them will take a voice actor a long way. At the end of the day, it is the fans who make a particular anime successful.
How To Become an Anime Voice Actor?
Ok, so we know what an anime voice actor is, but how can someone go around becoming a voice actor? There are many ways to do it, but let’s try to come up with a plan of action.
And, if you’re already an experienced anime voice actor, you can join our ranks at Bunny Studio today!
1. Train and Develop your Voice
There are several ways to become a voice actor. In Japan, for instance, you may choose to enroll in a school, such as Human Academy or the Yoyogi Animation Academy. Upon graduation, you may audition for the training school of a talent agency.
In the West, there are multiple avenues to train. Like we pointed out, proper training may very well be the defining factor in becoming an asset for a company. There are several programs out there, both in acting and voice acting. However, if finances or time are not quite available, there are other possibilities. Perhaps try to find a shorter course, read books and watch YouTube videos. Also, don’t discount training in things such as singing by joining a choir. The point is to be able to handle your voice properly and safely, to develop range and fullness and to be able to get out of your mind to give real performances.
Some other good ideas for training and practice that should not cost you much are joining the local community theater, taking improv classes or acting in student short films. In general, just get used to reading and voicing out loud.
Another good idea is to set up a mini-studio in your own home, where you can record and listen to yourself. It should not cost you much. Try to have a quiet space that is soundproofed and a good microphone, pop shield, XLR cable, mixer/interface, computer and recording software.
Another important ability, often overlooked, is to be able to lip-synch to the image on the screen. Other abilities like being punctual and friendly are of course essential, like in other industries and jobs.
2. Create a Great Demo Reel and Resume
A good resume is important. A one-page resume will perhaps be better, though in all this there is some leeway. But most importantly, a great demo reel will make all the difference when opportunity strikes. A demo reel of between 1-3 minutes should be enough. Make sure the demo reel is something of good quality and perhaps invest to make sure it is done professionally.
Getting those first auditions and jobs will be the greatest hurdle. To that end, it is important to meet people in the industry, particularly agents, representatives or studio people. Being in the right city is also important.
4. Master Auditions
Auditions will be a common feature of anime voice acting, even for established actors. Even Laura Bailey, for instance, still goes to auditions and is turned down! The key is not to get discouraged by rejections and to take it all as a learning process. Be sure to showcase what you can specifically bring to the table in the way of unique skills, personality, range and style.
5. Consider Using Social Media
Social media is a powerful tool to achieve exposure and become an anime voice actor. Outlets such as YouTube, where the would-be anime voice actor acquires a following are excellent. A good example of this route is Russian-native Jenya. She started at age 16, inspired by the anime Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, and set up her own Japanese language website to upload covers of anime songs. Eventually, she gained a following online and made her way to Japan, where she has worked in anime ever since. She has supervised Russian translations such as Black Lagoon and Yuri on Ice and worked in Cheburashka Arere, Mysterious Joker and Fūfu Japan, amongst others.
6. Be a Fan of Anime
Anyone who wishes to be an anime voice actor must first and foremost be a fan of anime. If you have an interest in anime voice acting but perhaps are not up to speed in it, be sure to explore the big film titles, series and to have an overview of the different genres. As you watch it, ask yourself, how is it that this particular voice actor is achieving that voice? Put yourself in the shoes of the actor you are listening to.
The Future of Anime Voice Actors
As was pointed out earlier, anime voice actors in Japan are multifaceted and many become celebrities in their own right. The future will therefore likely have voice actors, particularly in Japan, working in anime but also in all the different branches related to anime. As to dubbing anime in English and other languages, the field will increase more and more as anime craves good voice actors in many languages who are able to serve the different markets worldwide.
The role of anime voice actors in video-games, both in Japan and the English-speaking world, will increase evermore. Indeed, as anime properties develop their own videogames, there will be more opportunities. There is also the case of anime being developed from videogames themselves. This two-way situation will undoubtedly create a more pressing need for anime voice actors in all languages.
Voice acting in anime is an essential part of the creation of quality anime. Aspiring anime voice actors may work in Japan, where Japanese would be essential or they may also dub or ‘revoice’ and localize anime for foreign markets, like the English-speaking world.
A voice actor should aspire to be, first and foremost, a well-rounded actor, with a strong work ethic. There are many ways to become an anime voice actor, including training and developing one’s voice, creating a great resume and demo reel, networking, using social media and gaining ever more knowledge of anime itself to know exactly where opportunity may be found.
With time and patience, you too may become a voice actor in the thriving world of anime.
And, of course, when you’re ready, you can apply to join Bunny Studio and become part of our amazing roster of anime Pros!