I read Otsuka Akio’s book Seiyuu Damashii recently. It’s not so much a tell-it-all on the industry as it is a primer for wannabe seiyuu on what they should and should not do to survive in the business, but it does reaffirm a lot of my general thoughts & opinions about the industry.
There are a lot of misconceptions people – not only fans, but aspiring seiyuu themselves, have about the seiyuu industry. These cover everything from salary expectations to the casting process to the role of agencies & managers. I am by no means any expert nor do I have any juicy insider information to impart, but here’s getting down in writing stuff that is swimming in my brain.
Warning: Extremely tl;dr, Unorganized Great Wall of Text follows. My thoughts, not necessarily yours.
Casting & Auditions
・Let’s go through the casting process, roughly:
1. Preliminary consultation meetings involving authors, producers, sponsors, director & sound director
2. Sound director contacts agencies to let them know about auditions (if any)
3. Auditions are held
4. More meetings held to discuss & finalize casting
5. Agencies are notified of the decision
・Auditions can take place any time from more than a year before, to just a couple of months away from airtime. In most cases, auditions are only for the main characters. Supporting roles are usually left to the sound director’s discretion.
・The most important considerations in casting seiyuu for anime: budget constraints & keeping those damned producers & sponsors happy. In an ideal world directors would cast experienced, top-ranked seiyuu, but not every show has a budget the size of One Piece’s. Hence the trend of casting ‘popular’, fresh seiyuu who are still within junior ranks and earning peanuts.
・There are two main ways to determine seiyuu castings – the ‘hard-coded’ castings demanded by authors, sponsors and producers, and those that are done through the traditional audition system. Sometimes, the cast can already be in place before a sound director is even hired.
・The author does have a big say in casting. Hata Kenjiro for example, specifically asked for Shiraishi Ryoko (and possibly also Tanaka Rie, Ito Shizuka & Kugimiya Rie) in Hayate no Gotoku!. Takahashi Rumiko anime will always feature Yamaguchi Kappei. And so on.
・Sponsors and producers have a bigger and bigger say in seiyuu castings. Aniplex & SME famously love exerting their powers over anime castings by way of shoving in the Music Ray’n girls in exchange for production
dollars yen – package deals, basically. It used to be the case with Tomatsu Haruka, and now it is so with Amamiya Sora. I’m wondering by this point how many roles Amamiya has actually ‘won’ through auditions. You could probably count the number on one hand.
・Increasingly, producers and sponsors want to cast ‘popular’ seiyuu. This refers to both male and female seiyuu who have a considerably large number of fans, whose names can help sell event tickets, merchandise and so on. They can also be employed to do cheap PR for the show through radio, magazines, events etc.
・These ‘popular’ seiyuu usually have a short shelf life; once they’re out of junior ranks times will be tougher. Not to mention (kuso-DD) fans these days tend to have short memories where ‘popularity’ is as permanent as a cloud drifting by. In this respect male seiyuu tend to do better as the rabid fujoshi fanbase’s loyalty is not to be underestimated.
・Before auditions even take place, the sound director will place calls to agency managers and get them to send their seiyuu along. Not all agencies will get a call. The smaller agencies will probably get very few calls. Sometimes, the sound directors will ask for specific names. Auditions are by no means a level playing field, which is why budding seiyuu will always try to get into one of the big agencies to maximize their chances.
・Sound director Hamano Kazuzo has mentioned that he has conducted blind auditions before, where the auditioning seiyuu’s face is not shown and their info withheld to prevent preformed opinions of the auditioner’s ability. He however, notes that such a move can backfire as the committee becomes too fixated on playing a “guess the seiyuu” game instead of assessing a candidate’s suitability.
・Someone like Aketagawa Jin doesn’t really bother with cattle call auditions. Instead, he’ll call up the managers he’s friendly with and they’ll send along seiyuu he likes or might like. Aketagawa tends to cast from within a selected group of seiyuu, getting them to try out for multiple roles until they find one that suits them – this is how casting for something like Shokugeki no Soma, which is a roll call of Aketagawa favourites, went.
・Off the top of my head, casting for recent things like Punchline and Kyokai no Rinne went similarly – call a selected bunch of seiyuu in, have them try out for everything. Chiranosuke (the cat) was hard to cast – there was no gender limitation set, so both male seiyuu and even Kugimiya Rie tried out for the role but all failed ‘til they found Yoshida Yuri.
・Voice samples found on the agency websites do actually play a bigger role that you’d think. In the past, agencies would have to send sample discs along to sound directors for consideration but nowadays, directors just browse the websites to check out potential castings, especially for juniors of whom little is known. That is why even a dinosaur agency like Osawa Office has had to get with the times and put up profiles for all their talents.
・Getting into a reputable agency doesn’t mean the roles will roll in. This is why building a good relationship with your manager is paramount. Most of the time, it’s the managers who decide which seiyuu to send once they receive news about casting calls. So if you don’t get along well with your manager…
・When I see that a seiyuu has left their agency, is switching to another one or is going freelance, the first thought that comes to my mind is that they are not satisfied with their management. If not, then the seiyuu must be following their old manager that has left their current agency.
・When I see seiyuu not getting any roles for X period of time, what goes through my mind:
1) They’re not getting along well with their manager, who doesn’t bother to send him or her along to auditions
2) They suck at voice acting so they keep failing their auditions
3) They’re ill or pregnant
・Freelance seiyuu who actually remain freelance (as opposed to just temporarily being ‘unemployed’ before joining another agency) are rare. You might not have to give a cut of your earnings to your agency as before, but it’s harder to get jobs that way unless you have a great relationship with the right directors and producers, or you are very good at what you do. Examples of seiyuu who have been freelancing for at least a year – Arai Satomi, Kobayashi Yumiko, Takagi Wataru, Narita Ken, Yuki Hiro, Asakawa Yuu, Yusa Koji, Takahashi Chiaki, Yajima Akiko. Hosoya Yoshimasa, Shimizu Ai and Goto Saori are also approaching their first anniversary of freelancing in the next couple of months. Nazuka Kaori used to be managed by her mother when she was a child but now handles her activities herself. These guys have all built up respectable banks of work and staff members know and trust them well enough to give them jobs.
Seiyuu earn peanuts
・The ‘peanuts’ seiyuu earned formally referred to as ‘guarantees’ (gyara), amounts to around 15,000yen per 30-minute episode for the lowest-ranked seiyuu, no matter the amount of dialogue they get. The difference in earnings between a junior-rank seiyuu and seiyuu of a higher rank is not that much, give or take a couple of thousand yen per episode, but the costs do build up over the 1-2 cours.
・Seiyuu are ranked as juniors for the first three or so years after they debut. After that they climb a ranking ladder starting at rank 15, which signifies 15,000yen gyara. They slowly move up the ranks to 16 (16,000yen gyara) and so on. The highest gyara earned by a ranked seiyuu is apparently 45,000yen per episode. Anything higher than that and the seiyuu is deemed ‘no rank’, where they are free to negotiate their own pay levels. As a reference, someone like Kaneda Tomoko, who has been in the business for 15 years, apparently receives gyara of around 30,000yen per episode.
・Junior seiyuu are (apparently) not entitled to other fees such as TV broadcast fees, secondary usage fees (fees when your show gets released on DVD/BD), time premium fees (an additional premium paid to seiyuu on top of their basic gyara if a show runs longer than 30 minutes), and so on. If you’re interested in seeing the fee and percentage provisions for different media, please refer to the Japan Actor’s Union page (in Japanese, of course).
・Thus, rough calculations for a Rank-15 seiyuu whose anime show gets broadcast on TV, they will earn 15,000 + 15,000 x 80% initial utilization rate (初期目的利用料) = 27,000yen. From that, the seiyuu’s agency get a 20% cut and the taxman gets a 10% cut, leaving the seiyuu with a take-home pay cheque of 18,900yen.
・You can see why producers are reluctant to hire ranked seiyuu if they’re low on budget. Also, thanks to the need to pay seiyuu rebroadcast fees, some TV stations can’t be bothered to show reruns of older anime.
・Estimations by seiyuu themselves – only 10% of seiyuu (Otsuka Akio), or around 300 seiyuu (acc. to Namikawa Daisuke) can make a living from voice acting. The rest only get by with supplementary income from part-time jobs. And of course, no banks will give them loans because of their unstable income, though this is not exclusive to seiyuu but to the entertainment industry in general.
・Some basic numbers – average rent in Tokyo 23-ku is 97,000 yen/month, Saitama is 68,000yen/month & Kanagawa 66,000yen/month. Adding food, travel & living expenses, the average junior seiyuu would need at least 3-4 regular roles in anime shows per season to survive, not taking into account any other earnings from games, dubbing etc.
・Part-time jobs pay around 1,000 yen per hour on average, with a maximum of 29.5 working hours per week (if people work more, companies have to pay their health insurance).
Seiyuu schedules & the actual work
・A bit on seiyuu work schedules – I like to think of them in ‘blocks’. 3 potential blocks of work per day – morning, afternoon, night, any day of the week. That’s 3×7=21 potential blocks of work. If you’re a popular/idol seiyuu, weekends will mostly be taken up by events, so that’s 3-6 blocks gone.
・Afureko will take biggest priority on a seiyuu’s scheduling as you can imagine how hard it is to assemble a cast of X number of seiyuu at the same time. All other work revolves around those schedules. Afureko can take place at night as well if that’s the only time everyone is available. Game lines are recorded solo in a booth, so they can be done whenever the seiyuu is available. I suppose most seiyuu would prefer not to work at night so that they can spend time prepping (script check etc) or resting, but c’est la vie.
・Article 61 of Japan’s labour laws prevents under-18s from working between 10pm and 6am, so that’s late-night TV & radio appearances out of the question for young seiyuu idols and child actors.
・Dubbing work doesn’t require auditions, the TV station, producers and audio directors will decide the castings. Games do sometimes require auditions, particularly if it’s a big title from a big maker.
・For drama CDs adapting manga/ranobe, most of the time the author of the original work can pick their own cast (within limits). The reason why anime casts can differ from drama CD casts is simple – different production companies, different directors.
・I’m actually quite conflicted when it comes to seiyuu radio shows. One the one hand it’s an opportunity for the seiyuu to show off their personalities and good fun for the fans to get to learn more about them, on the other hand they get paid next-to-nothing for such work, if at all. For every Suzakinishi there are 20 other shows with barebones listenership and they’re just taking a block out of seiyuu’s schedule which could be spent more productively.
・Instead of thinking about what type of jobs pay seiyuu the highest gyara in raw numbers, let’s think about a ratio: pay per hour. In this case, CMs would give seiyuu their biggest bang for buck. Game recordings are tiresome, but little preparation is needed – you’re just reading a phone directory-sized book of scripted lines. Anime requires a bit more thinking, especially if you’re voicing a major role where interaction and dialogue with other characters is important. Western film and TV dubbing is the least rewarding due to the amount of prep work needed – having to repeatedly check the source material to make sure your performance is as close to the original’s as possible.
・There is no hard and fast rule for earnings from things like gravure/PBs, solo DVDs, events & merchandise. Figures thrown around: for college festival events – 50k+ for higher rank seiyuu, 30k for junior/newcomers. For CDs – if it’s a solo release under your own name you get royalties amounting to maybe 1% of total sales, more if they wrote lyrics or music (+ more royalties if the song gets on karaoke machines). If it’s an anime-related one (charasong) you just get paid a flat fee based on your rank. If the charasong is recorded on the same day as afureko you get paid 0.5 gyara, if it’s on a different day then you get paid full gyara.
・Event fees depend on the scale of the event and what type of event it is. Promo events could pay nominal or even no gyara, large scale live concerts will obviously pay more. Don’t worry, the frontline iM@S & Love Live seiyuu are making enough out of these things. At least someone like Nakamura Eriko, whose anime work is almost non-existent, made/makes enough to survive.
・Something vaguely related – I always bought merchandise like T-shirts etc for all the indie band lives in clubs & livehouses I went to cos that was the only way they’d make money since they’d be in the red from the get go thanks to the noruma system. I’m pretty sure the same rules apply to any of the anisong artists playing venues such as the Shibuya-O groups (O-East etc), Duo Music Exchange, Liquid Room & Zepp…so please buy the merchandise!!!
Future expectations of seiyuu
・For a while I was actually quite angry about mainstream talent agencies muscling their way into seiyuu management *cough* HoriPro *cough*. I see the way these guys ‘manage’ their idols and talents and I really don’t like the idea of such practices being imported into the niche seiyuu industry.
・Nowadays I’m just resigned to the fact that the seiyuu/aidoru/tarento worlds are all converging and there’s no point getting all worked up about something I can’t stop. Whether or not Horipro exists, the seiyuu of today all need to be entertainment machines well-versed in the art of public appearance or they won’t get hired.
・Obviously, more and more kids are getting into voice acting before they’re truly ready – they’re still in school and haven’t even received proper training which inevitably means that some of them will crash and burn fairly quickly. We used to only see the truly talented ones like Sawashiro Miyuki and all the Himawari kids (Miyano, Irino etc) coming through but these days all you need to get by is a pretty face or an entertaining personality.
・If all a seiyuu has is a pretty face and an entertaining personality to go along with their very average voice acting, I am almost 100% certain that they’ll have faded into obscurity within 10 years. Talent doesn’t guarantee you a solid, long-term career either. I’m thinking of the early to mid-00s, of people like Shimizu Ai, Nogawa Sakura, Mochizuki Hisayo, Chiba Saeko, Kuwatani Natsuko, Matsuoka Yuki. The likes of Hoshi Soichiro, Toyoguchi Megumi, Orikasa Fumiko, Ueda Kana and heck, even Ito Kanae, aren’t getting as many roles as they used to.
・Even if you have a ‘good’ voice, the chances of making a lifelong career out of seiyuu work are slim. Examples of people who are still working steadily into their 50s and 60s – Tanaka Atsuko, Koyama Rikiya, Otsuka Akio, Ishizuka Unsho, Fujiwara Keiji, Inoue Kikuko, Yamadera Koichi. How many of today’s seiyuu do you think will survive in the industry until their 40s?
Tomatsu Haruka & her future career path
・I’ve been following Tomatsu Haruka since her debut in Polyphonica in the spring 2007 season. At the beginning she was rather obviously being gorioshi-ed by MuRay and unsurprisingly, gained a lot of haters. She was MuRay’s test seiyuu idol guinea pig, being pushed into anime, dorama & everything in between to see what worked and what didn’t.
・Hardly anybody bought Tomatsu’s first single naissance and it wasn’t until Kannagi that same year that people started paying attention. Her success gave Sphere the platform for success, though it was K-ON! that really cemented their status.
・Sphere itself is reaching a plateau as a group, no thanks to all the new kids on the scene including their juniors Trysail so I don’t foresee MuRay putting too much money or effort into them for much longer.
・On an individual level Tomatsu remains the most successful of the first-gen MuRay girls and has steady, diverse income streams – there was that series of ads for Furuta chocolates she did last year, she has her photobooks, voicing the PR mascot character for NHK’s 2015 taiga dorama Hana Moyu and most importantly, she has Youkai Watch (and Precure). At the very least, I am no longer worried about whether she’ll be earning enough to feed herself in 5 years’ time (discounting the fact that her dad is most likely super rich…).
Everyone wants to appear in kids’ shows for a reason
・Forget about that boring line seiyuu feed you in interviews about ‘wanting to give children dreams’ when they talk about why they became seiyuu or what type of shows they want to appear in. The true reason anyone wants to be part of big-name franchises like Precure, Doraemon and Shonen Jump adaptations is that involvement in such shows means they can pay their bills for many years down the line. TV series, movies, games, merchandise, rebroadcasts, CDs, Blurays, events – the potential earnings are mind-boggling. That is why I’m happiest when my favourite seiyuu land big roles in kids’ anime – happy for their bank account.
・What you see happening in SHIROBAKO is the cattle call audition where dozens of seiyuu from dozens of agencies try out for specific roles over a span of many hours – sometimes auditions can even stretch on for days, if there are a significant number of leading roles that need to be filled. The process is both tiring and tiresome for the audition committee and too often by the end of the day, everyone sounds more or less the same, which makes it difficult to make a proper judgment. Hamano Kazuzo also notes that it’s not necessarily true that the seiyuu who audition first will have an advantage over those who audition later on during the day – sometimes, an amazing performance will snap the audition committee out of a lull.
・And yes it can be intimidating to see the other seiyuu who come in to audition for the same role that you’re trying out for. Look at this talk about auditions between Ueda Kana & Shimuzu Kaori back in 2008….
・That one episode where different parties with different interests duke it out over the seiyuu casting? Maybe exaggerated a bit, but it’s a good illustration of how castings aren’t made based on who fits the role best. They might not fit the role at all, or even be fit for voice acting in the first place (Hi, Denpa Kyoushi).
・Anal directors who have doubled up on duties as sound director – Sato Junichi, Ikuhara Kunihiko, Matsumoto Rie, Mochizuki Tomomi, Chigira Koichi, Mizushima Tsutomu, Oizaki Fumitoshi, Inagaki Takayuki.
・Prolific sound directors whose names you’ll see appearing again & again in anime season listings – Aketagawa Jin (much more on him later), Tsuruoka Yota, Iwanami Yoshikazu (the SHIROBAKO parody guy!), Kameyama Toshiki (Shaft’s chosen sound director), Mima Masafumi, Iida Satoki, Wakabayashi Kazuhiro. I’m actually working on a sound director spreadsheet so maybe that will see the light of day…some time before I expire.
・Seiyuu-turned sound directors: Inoue Kazuhiko, Chiba Shigeru, Tsujitani Koji, Fujiwara Keiji, Goda Hozumi, Mitsuya Yuji, Nakajima Toshihiko, Shioya Yoku.
・It goes without saying that sound directors play favourites. They like certain types of voices, they like to work with certain people who they know can get the job done. Nothing galls sound directors more than having recording slowed down by hapless, inexperienced seiyuu who mess things up & force retakes. Though, as Otsuka Akio points out – if a director doesn’t ask for a retake it doesn’t necessarily mean the seiyuu did a good job. It could also mean that the director thinks that that is the limit to a particular seiyuu’s ability and it’s a waste of time and resources to ask for retakes when they won’t get better performances out of them. Tomatsu Haruka has also mentioned that early on in her career, a (director) sent her home early from the studio as he didn’t think she’d be able to produce anything better than what she’d done that day.
・Let’s talk about Aketagawa Jin. He’s 43 years old, the son of Aketagawa Susumu, a veteran sound director and one of the founding members of the now-defunct Group TAC studio. He started working in anime in the mid-90s on shows his father had a hand in such as Those Who Hunt Elves and in 1999, broke out as a sound director in his own right.
・As Jin started his sound directing career at a young age he has always been close to his seiyuu. Many of them treat him as a personal friend – Iwata Mitsuo addresses him as Jin-kun and even today, someone like Matsuoka Yoshitsugu refers to him as Jin-chan.
・Aketagawa’s casting patterns are fairly predictable. Within a certain window of time (let’s say 2-3 years) he fills his main cast with his favourite junior talents. When they’ve moved up ranks and their guarantees get too expensive, he’ll move on to another batch of young seiyuu. That doesn’t mean Jin will cast aside his past favourites – when there are side characters or guest roles he needs to fill, he’ll give his ex-faves a quick call and into the studio they come.
・When Aketagawa plays favourites, he really plays favourites. You can do a quick google of the keywords ‘Aketagawa Jin’ and ‘pillow business’ and come up with plenty of hits and supposed examples of seiyuu that he literally ‘favours’. Of course the list also includes plenty of male seiyuu.
・Aketagawa loved/loves Tomatsu Haruka. He was the sound director of her first ever anime Shinkyoku Sokai Polyphonica in 2007 and continued steadily casting her – in 2009, 9 out of 18 of Tomatsu’s roles had Aketagawa as sound director. By 2014, this was no longer the case – only 1 out of her 17 roles was directed by Aketagawa and she was being hired equally by people like Mima Masafumi and Iwanami Yoshikazu.
・Let’s look at another recent example. Around 2013, Taneda Risa was accused of engaging in pillow business with Aketagawa. Of her 24 anime roles that year:
Aketagawa Jin 16
Iwanami Yoshikazu 2
Tsuruoka Yota 1
Fujino Sadayoshi 1
Ishibashi Rika 1
Kikuta Hiromi 1
Mizushima Tsutomu 1
Motoyama Satoshi 1
・Coincidentally or not, Taneda’s Jin-chan ratio dropped to 4/14 in 2014 and so far this year, it’s been 4/11.
・Aketagawa has been casting from within a larger pool lately – Ishigami Shizuka is quite obviously a new favourite of his with her count at 7/18 for 2014 & 5/10 for 2015, including 2 upcoming lead roles (in Shimoseka & Rakudai). He also likes Ozawa Ari and Kimura Juri and for the guys, Hanae Natsuki & Kobayashi Yusuke are his golden boys of 2015.
For 2014 he had 13 shows:
10 Nakamura Tomo
9 Yamamoto Itaru
8 Murata Taishi, Yamamoto Kanehira
7 Ishigami Shizuka, Sakurai Hiromi, Soma Koichi, Suwa Ayaka, Yanagida Junichi, Saito Hironori
6 Hikasa Yoko, Kakuma Ai, Minase Inori, Ishiya Haruki
5 Kawamura Rie, Kayano Ai, Furukawa Makoto, Nogawa Masashi, Kanemoto Ryosuke, Matsumoto Shinobu
4 Taneda Risa, Takahashi Minami, Sakurai Takahiro, Koyama Rikiya, Onishi Saori, Kido Ibuki, Noto Mamiko, Tezuka Hiromichi, Yamagishi Haruo, Dendo Rina, Kawanishi Kengo, Nose Ikuji
And for 2015 so far he has 13 shows, 1 of which he had little control over casting (Grisaia):
8 Furukawa Makoto
6 Sakurai Hiromi, Murata Taishi, Hashimoto Chinami
5 Ishigami Shizuka, Hanae Natsuki, Nose Ikuji, Kakuma Ai, Yamamoto Itaru, Kayano Ai, Kimura Juri
4 Taneda Risa, Kobayashi Yusuke, Onishi Saori, Takahashi Minami, Matsuoka Yoshitsugu, Hosoya Yoshimasa, Nishi Asuka, Muranaka Tomo, Nogawa Masashi, Ozawa Ari
3 Tomatsu Haruka, Uchida Maaya, Hikasa Yoko, Noto Mamiko, Sakurai Takahiro, Miyake Kenta, Suwa Ayaka, Minase Inori
2 Ono Kensho, Komatsu Mikako, Ono Yuuki, Suzaki Aya, Koyama Rikiya, Hidaka Rina
Not full data, but just some of what I picked up by looking at cast lists. You haven’t heard of some of those people? That’s ‘cos they only voice mob characters.
・Yes I’m totally biased towards Ozawa-chan, but I’m not the only one who loves her. At the very least, I’m Enterprise + her manager loves her enough to get her tons of jobs. And sound directors love her enough to keep casting her. Look at her stats for 2015 thus far:
Total roles: 19
Of which are leading roles: 6
Anime-related radio shows: 4 (Monmusu, Aquarion, Gakkou Gurashi, Classroom Crisis)
Other radio shows: 2 (Ozanari, Nairaji)
Sound director breakdown:
Aketagawa Jin 6
Motoyama Satoshi 2
Okuma Akira 2 (1 joint with Urakami Yasuyuki)
Iida Satoki 1
Morishita Hiroto 1
Shimizu Yoji 1
Fujita Akiko 1
Hata Shoko 1
Inagaki Takayuki 1
Oizaki Fumitoshi 1
Yamamoto Koji 1
Tanaka Akiyoshi 1
Incidentally, one of her mob roles was in Doraemon.
I guess I think about stuff too much. But then, I always worry about whether my favourite seiyuu
Okay this post has been sitting in my drafts for way too long. It’s not finished but I think this is as far as I’ll get at this point in time (ok I’m just lazy).
On a somewhat unrelated note, Sore ga Seiyuu! starts airing next week. Please do watch it!