So, you’re an anime buff, huh? Good to know you also share a passion for this cross-cultural craze. Maybe you’ve heard of one of the recent series that has spread like wildfire through both East and West: New Game. This slice-of-life manga was adapted into two successful seasons between 2016 and 2017. It goes without saying that the New Game voice actors have made a mint.
Seeing that the cast from the series are bonafide celebrities opens up interesting questions; are there any differences between being a voice actor in Japan than in the rest of the world? Is there anything that can be learned from the Japanese voice acting culture? What is the future of anime voice acting?
Let’s try and work out the answers! Meanwhile, pour yourself some green tea, put on your favorite anime opening (I’m a classics guy), and let’s get cracking!
Voice acting is the practice whereby actors interpret and record character voices. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “The art or occupation of providing the voices for characters in animated films, dubbed foreign language films, audio dramas, etc.” From He-Man to Dragon Ball Z or Ready Player One, animated features are one of the most popular vehicles for voice acting.
Any type of voice acting in this vein may be considered a form of voice-over. Voice acting refers to the performance itself, voice-over to the production and recording technique. It’s any type of voice performance where the actor is not on camera, essentially.
Voice actors in anime are called “seiyuu”, and they go through specialized, formalized training before they start acting professionally. They would be considered a sub-category of Japanese voice-overs. There are also a number of key differences with Western-style voice acting that we’ll explore below.
New Game voice actors: another word for “seiyuu”
Voice acting in Japan entails performing in a variety of mediums. Radio dramas, anime, video games, etc. are all part of their purview. In fact, Japan produces around 60% of all animated series seen throughout the world. If you haven’t leaped to this conclusion already, seiyuu are in constant demand.
In the West, voice acting is often a freewheeling, solo profession. Save for those who are employed by a particular studio or company, voice actors are familiarized with the ins-and-outs of freelancing. So unregulated is the voice acting profession, that most are self-taught. While courses now abound, it’s not uncommon for voice actors to have had to go with the self-taught route.
Nothing could be further from the truth in Japan. Seiyuu have to go through extensive formalized training before they can get their start in the business. Japan is currently home to around 130 academies. Two very well-known ones are the Yoyogi Animation Academy, and the Amusement Media Academy. Check out this insider look to see what hopefuls have to learn on their lengthy instruction process.
“This school for voice actors-in-training has produced a number of stars in the industry, including Tetsuya Kakihara and Kanae Ito. At Amusement Media Academy, voice actors not only receive vocal training, but they also take a diverse array of lessons in singing and dancing. Our reporter observed acting and a singing class on the day that he visited.”
Some studios and broadcasting agencies even have their own seiyuu entourages! There are even specialized magazines and publications devoted to the voice acting profession. It’s a completely different ballgame.
Seiyuus and fame
Not only that, but the seiyuu profession has such widespread acclaim and recognition, that there are manga about it! In ‘Voice Over! Seiyuu Academy’, a 15-year-old character goes through a personal journey to become a full-fledged seiyuu. Her gorilla-like, unseemly voice makes this a grueling, against-all-odds task. It wouldn’t be a good manga without the protagonist making some sort of Herculean effort to succeed, right?
Real Tokyo academies and studios were used as a reference for the manga in order to provide an authentic, lived-in feel to the story.
That leads us to another difference between being a seiyuu and a Western voice actor: fame. After seiyuu have completed their training, they’re usually versed in a variety of skills. Not just portraying a variety of characters, but also stage acting, dancing, and singing become part of their bag of tricks. It is not uncommon for a seiyuu to branch out into film acting, or to develop a J-pop or singing career. Nana Mizuki is a perfect example, but most seiyuu are proficient singers.
That leads to them not only being multi-faceted but justly well-regarded by society at large. Some seiyuu even have their own rabidly-obsessive fan clubs. It’s a common practice for seiyuu fans to tune into a particular show just to hear their idol’s performance. In some cases, these fan clubs are even spread out internationally!
That sheds some more light into why the New Game voice actors have their own fanbase!
New game started as a four-panel serialized manga by Shōtarō Tokunō in 2013. The seinen manga magazine Manga Time Kirara Carat was responsible for publishing it in Japan; it was then brought overseas by publishing house Seven Seas Entertainment, a group dedicated to publishing original manga.
The story follows Aoba Suzukaze, a high school graduate who begins a career as a game character designer for a Tokyo-based company called Eagle Jump that she was inspired by in her youth. There, she models and designs character models while getting acquainted with her co-workers. As with all humorous manga, shenanigans ensue.
The manga works both as an honest portrayal of the “crunch time” typical to game developments, and the intra-office relationships and dynamics of a packed, high-energy workplace. New Game undoubtedly succeeds both while retaining a lighthearted, comedic tone where hijinks are at the order of the day.
The Doga Kobo-produced anime series launched in mid-2016. It was then simulcast (broadcasted simultaneously) by Crunchyroll, an American company focused on streaming anime. As with many other series in recent times, this means audiences both in Japan and the US got to watch the show at the same time. Simulcasting then does away with the common delays with video or VOD adaptations. The dubbed version by Funimax came out in 2018.
Another notable aspect about the series is the nearly all-female cast. While there are some male bit parts and secondary characters, practically everyone at Eagle Jump or through the series is female. Way to go, New Game!
New Game Voice Actors
Aoba Suzukaze (涼風 青葉, Suzukaze Aoba)
The main character; voiced by Yūki Takada in Japanese and Megan Shipman in English.
She’s a spirited, blonde high school graduate with double pigtails who joins Eagle Jump as a character designer. She was inspired by their character designs in her youth, and decided to follow in their footsteps. She’s of small stature, which leads to hilarity when people confuse her with a middle school student.
Kō Yagami (八神 コウ, Yagami Kō)
Voiced by Yōko Hikasa in Japanese, and Michelle Rojas in the English dub.
The lead character designer at Eagle Jump. She was the character designer that inspired Aoba to follow the same path. She often overworks to the point of frequently sleeping at the office, which is sometimes played for laughs. Her casual attitude often belies her obsessive, work-first attitude.
Rin Tōyama (遠山 りん, Tōyama Rin)
Voiced by Kayano in the original and Kristen McGuire in the dub
Art director and head honcho at the background department. She maintains a close relationship with Ko Yagami, and gets jealous when others become her friends. She generally maintains a shy demeanor throughout, which matches her well-organized attitude to her workplace.
Hifumi Takimoto (滝本 ひふみ, Takimoto Hifumi)
Voiced by Megumi Yamaguchi in the original and Jill Harris in English
She’s an introverted character designer who prefers to communicate with others through e-mail. She’s a cosplay enthusiast, though she prefers to keep this fact hidden. She also owns a pet hedgehog (because metaphors!).
Hajime Shinoda (篠田 はじめ, Shinoda Hajime)
Voiced by Megumi Toda in the original, and Tia Ballard in English
She’s a motion designer that works in the character design department but wants to work in animation. She takes on the role of game planner as the series progresses. She’s a sentai (think Power Rangers) show fan and owns a variety of prop weapons.
The cast of New Game voice actors is broad, so I think these examples serve as good samples of the kind of talent in this show. What’s commendable is that New Game is a female-led anime about the everyday lives of game designers — a traditionally male-centric profession. The story is also noteworthy in its willingness to capture the minutiae of working under harsh deadlines in an enclosed office space.
A feature of being a seiyuu we explored above is their multitalented nature. Check out the second season opening song, ‘Step by Step up’.
Catchy, huh? But before you go on a bubblegum-pop, anime opening binge, wait! What’s notable about the opening and ending songs of the show is that they’re done by the New Game voice actors! Yūki Takada, Megumi Yamaguchi, Ayumi Takeo, and Megumi Toda perform them under the group name Fourfolium. Now that’s a group of modern renaissance women!
Anime voice acting is very much a thriving business. If there’s anything to be learned from the New Game voice actors, is that the hard work that it takes to become a seiyuu definitely pays off.
As we move into an uncertain future, things are bound to change. The global marketplace and the appearance of voice-centric freelancing hubs also mean that plenty of new talent will emerge in all languages. As developers and studios wise up to these new possibilities, it’s probable that they’ll go outside classical channels. After all, what matters is whether your voice talent can deliver the goods.
It’ll no-doubt be exciting when the first full-voice video game or anime comes out created entirely through talent hired online. What will change? What will stay the same when it comes to the seiyuu trade? One thing’s for sure: more amazing stories are ahead, so let’s count ourselves lucky!