In this article we will take a look at voice over in general and in Japan. We will also examine where to get Japanese voice overs.
Although the first instinct is to look solely in Japan for such work, there are several alternatives. We will thus also examine online hubs for remote voice over work.
Voice over adds a voice to an existing piece of content or material. There are many forms of voice over including: narration in a documentary, radio or audio performances, narrating trailers or recording audiobooks.
Dubbing and Voice Over
Dubbing and voice over are, strictly speaking, two different things. Voice over, as stated above, is about adding a voice to an existing piece of content. Dubbing, on the other hand, is about replacing a voice completely.
Dubbing is often seen in anime. Consider an anime television show, such as ‘Dragon Ball’. It will originally have voices in Japanese. When this product is taken to the United States it needs to be changed from Japanese into English. Voice talent is cast and the original voices in Japanese are completely replaced with voices in English.
In the case of voice over, original voices or sounds are not replaced. A new voice is simply added. Voice over translation, the closest thing to dubbing, simply takes a voice and adds it on top of the original audio. In Russia, many American DVD’s are sold informally, with the original audio, but with a Russian voice over translation added on top.
When we talk about Japanese voice overs, however, it is best to include both voice over and dubbing in the conversation. This way we can get a fuller, more in-depth picture of the industry.
Japanese Voice Over Artist
Voice over artists are the talent behind voice over. They are called by many names including voice artists, voice performers, voice talent, voice actors etc. In the case of Japanese voice overs, the talent behind them are called ‘seiyu’. They have a special status in Japan, as we will explore presently.
It is important to understand that voice over artists, are, above all, actors. Actors in film, television or the theater appear in-person on the stage or screen. Voice over actors remain unseen, but this does not mean that voice over work is not based on acting. It absolutely is; a good voice over actor is, first and foremost, a good actor.
Training for Japanese Voice Overs
Japanese voice overs have a special place in Japan. As such, the training of the talent is more formal than in other countries.
In the West, voice talent may follow independent training paths. YouTube videos are a good alternative, as are certain books on vocal technique. Joining choirs or community theater is very useful and affordable. Private coaching is naturally a great route, although costlier.
In Japan, there are quite a few academies catering to aspiring talent. One such academy is the Yoyogi Animation Academy or the Amusement Media Academy.
There are many anime voice actors in Japan. Some of the most famous are Hiroshi Kamiya, Daisuke Ono, Mamoru Miyano, Kaji Yuki, and Kenichi Suzumura.
The Nuts and Bolts
Training for Japanese voice overs spans a wide gamut in the Asian country, including:
Proper technique is obviously necessary for voice talent. Formal training will stress the need for health and safety in handling the voice. Proper breathing technique is also a vital part of training, and warming up is a crucial procedure to be mastered.
The script is an indispensable part of Japanese voice overs, particularly in anime. Training programs will often teach some sort of script analysis and the essentials of dramatic writing. This helps aspiring talent make the most of a script when auditioning or, eventually, when playing a part.
Voice talent are therefore taught things like character, the character arc and the obstacles for the character’s desire line. They also learn about breaks in a script, the different acts and beats and how the script builds towards a resolution.
Singing and Dancing
As stated earlier, the status of voice talent in Japan is different than in the West. Voice artists in charge of Japanese voice overs practice a range of things which their Western counterparts do not.
Singing and dancing, for example, serve voice talent in honing their skills. This is useful when in the recording booth, since voice acting, is like we stated earlier, acting. There is another use to such skills though. Voice actors in Japan have a level of fame which demands public appearances from them. Their work most certainly does not end in the recording booth but spans a number of public activities; singing and dancing are therefore valuable assets.
Promotion (and self-promotion)
A talent aspiring to work in Japanese voice overs must learn an array of skills, not limited to voice work. They must, for example, learn how to craft demo reels.
Demo reels in particular are an essential calling card in the industry, which must not be neglected. Often, demo reels are created at the end of the training programs themselves.
Skills for auditioning are also a part of training. It has often been said that a voice artist’s main job is auditioning.
As such, aspiring voice artists must learn the tricks of the trade when it comes to auditioning. Most importantly, they must learn how to audition constantly without discouragement.
Use of Technology
Japanese voice overs and anime rely on in-person auditioning. Cities like Tokyo are industry hubs, rife with constant auditions. As technology progresses, though, more auditions will take place online. Voice talent must be able to deal with the different forms of technology available for online auditioning.
To that end, a home studio is important for voice work. Such a setup should include a microphone, pop shield, XLR cable, mixer/interface, computer and recording software. A home studio like this serves a dual purpose (a) sending online auditions and (b) constantly practicing, analyzing the recording and improving.
Japanese Voice Overs and Anime
The story of Japanese voice overs is inextricably linked with anime. Japanese animation started in 1917, but it really took in the 1960’s. By the end of the 20th century it had acquired a global reach.
The earliest Japanese animation is called Namakura Gatana (なまくら刀) or Hanawa Hekonai meitō no maki (塙凹内名刀之巻) from 1917. It is a short film about a samurai who acquires a dull-edged sword and tries to fight townspeople.
Today, there are more than 430 production studios in Japan, including Studio Ghibli, Gainax and Toei Animation. The anime industry reached revenues of $17.7 billion in 2016.
New Markets for Japanese Voice Overs
There are two markets which are of great importance for Japanese voice overs. The first one is video games. As we all know, video games are a huge industry. As it keeps on increasing, it will demand more and more voice talent able to voice characters for the Japanese market.
The other great market and opportunity in the world of Japanese voice overs is the online outsourcing of creative needs. As online hubs grow, voice talent in Japan will profit from more freelance work online.
Where to Get Japanese Voice Overs
Now that we know what Japanese voice overs are, where do we get one? As we have seen, the undoubted hub for Japanese voice overs is Japan. What does this mean, exactly?
Japan remains the hub for voice talent who are fluent in Japanese, are able to live there and want to work full-time, to achieve ‘seiyu’ status.
Evidently, for people and companies who are not located in Japan, such talent is considerably difficult to reach.
For companies and people who are located around the globe (but not in Japan), there is a different path to getting quality Japanese voice overs. The answer to such a customer is to be found online.
Online platforms like Bunny Studio (us) are a force to be reckoned with in these matters. New technologies have changed the game when it comes to outsourcing creative needs, including voice overs of all kinds. In earlier times the first instinct was to somehow generate a contact in Japan, or to look for someone, anyone, locally and hope for the best. Online technologies now offer a substantially different solution.
In this way, a company or person who needs Japanese voice overs may simply go online. The Bunny Studio platform and its representatives will be more than happy to hook up a client with Japanese talent (who may live in Japan) and create the voice overs needed.
Such voice overs need not be limited to simple work, such as a voice over narration of a short film. As the outsourcing of creative needs pick up speed, more complex works are possible. Expect full dubbing in Japanese by a full cast, of animation to be cast and created online. Such a development will surely change the game in Japanese voice overs, yet again.
In A Few Words
Training for Japanese voice overs is quite formal and thorough in Japan. Voice talent or ‘seiyu’ achieve a level of fame unknown to their Western colleagues.
In the past, this voice over work would be found exclusively in Japan. Customers would seek to establish some sort of contact in the Asian country. Conversely, they would try to find someone, indeed anyone, locally who could produce such work, often with very mixed results. Nowadays, online technologies have changed the game.
Online creative hubs are able to hook up talent with clients to produce quality Japanese voice overs. At the rate things are going, we should expect full dubbing in Japanese by a full cast, to be created online in the near future.