Name: Saiga Mitsuki (斎賀 みつき)
DoB: 12 June 1973
Agency: Ken Production
One of the most popular ‘girls doing shonen voices’ seiyuu in the business, some of Saiga’s well-known roles including Tsukasa in the .hack series, Jing in King of Bandits Jing, Wolfram in Kyo Kara Maoh! and Kousaka Makoto in Genshiken. Her stock has unfortunately been dropping of late as shonen roles are increasingly being filled by young male rookie seiyuu, but you can catch her next year in Norn9 and Drifters.
Saiga is very much part of the old-school model of seiyuu and worked her way up through an at-times unforgiving hierarchical system. I think you can sense from her Seiyuu Road interview that she’s got a little bit of bitterness towards how the younger seiyuu of today have got it all so ‘easy’. Read her words and see.
Part 1. It’s not easy to make a living from being a seiyuu!
After graduating seiyuu school, I became attached to an agency. It looked like smooth progress but…
I started becoming interested in the seiyuu profession when I was in elementary school and once I graduated from high school, I enrolled in a voice training academy. I’d always been telling my parents “I want to become a seiyuu”, so they did not oppose my plans. There was less information available at the time unlike now; plus there were not a huge number of schools available so I just looked up the info in magazines, sent off my application and was enrolled.
This happened back in 1990-91, an era before the seiyuu boom. The people in seiyuu schools were those who “liked anime” or “liked seiyuu” – there were a lot of them. Yet, when summer holidays rolled around you’d find that half of them had dropped out, leaving only those who “really wanted to become actors or voice actors”.
Classes centred upon the basics of vocalization and pronunciation, body movement and things like that; I didn’t find them particularly harsh. There was also a bit of afureko training involved, but what really left an impression on me was the course on the basics of acting – they taught me a lot. Technical knowledge is something you can learn on the job, in the studio. However, neglecting the basics might lead to poor expressive ability and a lack of stamina, so I do believe in the importance of making sure you get the basics right. I think it’s something that remains as true now as it was then.
My generation of seiyuu is filled with 2nd generation baby boomers. That is why I think that so many of us are still in the industry, and that we’ve all made successful careers out of this. Because of the competition, it was pretty much an ‘every man for himself’ kind of situation with each individual equally hungry to succeed. Those were times when the competitive spirit was so much fiercer than it is now, though the current generation may feel it differently.
When I was still in seiyuu school, I went for a number of auditions hoping to gain admission to agency academies but I failed all of them. Right then, my teacher¹ asked me “Would you like to try for this audition? If you pass, you’ll be admitted into the agency straight away” – it turned out to be an audition for my current agency Ken Production. Thankfully, I managed to pass and got into the agency. For other agency academies, even if you passed the auditions it would take around 1-2 years at the earliest for you to have your attachment confirmed, so this was a bit of a ‘shortcut’ by comparison.
It’s great that I managed to get into an agency relatively easily, but this was the period when it was tough for rookie seiyuu to get into the studio at all. Even when I was on a student tour, we had no idea whether we’d be allowed into the studio. Furthermore, as there wasn’t such a thing as collaborations between agencies and anime productions at the time, we couldn’t go visiting a studio just because we wanted to.
Despite being attached to an agency, I’d only get maybe 1 job offer coming in every 6 months or so, if at all. The situation went on for close to 4 & 1/2 years. Then, I gradually started getting 1 job every 3 months, then 1 every month …I was the “slow-but-steady” type, working my way up bit by bit; I wasn’t one of those who’d arrived with a bang in a leading role.
It’s not easy to make a living from being a seiyuu!
During a certain period when I wasn’t getting any job offers, my agency organized workshops and I had the opportunity to learn pronunciation and vocalization from radio announcers who were invited guest speakers. It was then that I started to learn more about radio CMs and eventually, I started getting more chances to stand in front of a mic.
It may not have been plain sailing for me, but I never once thought about quitting doing something that I had always wanted to do. Though I only had 1 job opportunity in 6 months it seemed like the norm – or maybe it was just what it felt like during those times. Nowadays, young seiyuu can get into the studio relatively easily. There are some who would say “I’ve only got 3 shows a month”, and I’d think “Wow you’ve got the luxury of saying something like that”. To the current group of seiyuu, it might seem like “misfortune”.. I do feel the generation gap when it comes to things like that.
Obviously, it’s true when they say “I can’t make enough to eat by working 3 shows in a month” but seiyuu work was never something that was never going to be easy to make a living from in the first place. In my case, it took me 7-8 years of work before I made enough to start living on my own.
There was a period where I even wondered whether I’d get to attend more than 1-2 auditions per year. It was through one of these auditions where a certain director² began to cast me in various roles on a regular basis. Something like 1 show per week. From then, I started to see an increasing number of jobs coming in.
At one point in time, I received a call to attend an audition. It was actually supposed to be somebody else’s audition – the script I received even had the name of the male seiyuu written on it. However, the role was opened up to female seiyuu as well, which was why they gave me a call. I ended up getting the role and that was my first ever regular show³.
Following that, people’s perceptions changed – they knew that I was the kind of person who could do a certain type of role, and my agency too, sent me out for a variety of auditions. It took me 5 & ½ years to get up to that point. Many would have just given up already, but for my generation, very few of us threw in the towel. Maybe we just possessed the strength necessary to overcome those circumstances.
Pt 1 Notes:
-¹wiki says Nomura Michiko ‘discovered’ Saiga during her audition. Not sure if she’s the teacher being referred to here.
-²I looked up the sound directors from the early part of Saiga’s career and I believe the person she’s referring to is Kobayashi Katsuyoshi, who cast her in mob roles in shows like Devilman Lady, Cowboy Bebop, Seraphim Call and Karakurizoshi Ayatsuri Sakon.
-³This should be ZOIDS, where she voiced Raven
Part 2. In this industry, there are many seniors who can be your role models
If your mobile phone was to ring in the studio, you’d better be prepared to kowtow
When I was young, the studio was a place that had tension hanging in the air. Back then, it was much more of a hierarchical society than it is now. Juniors even had to serve tea to their seniors. However, it was because of such a system that it was easy for us to start a conversation with our seniors. We could ask them, “Would you like a cup of tea?” and after serving it and exchanging thanks, we’d have an opportunity to talk to them. I was once told after recording had finished – “If you don’t go out for drinks (with me), I won’t bother to remember your name”, so I often went out for drinks (with my seniors).
My seniors were ‘supreme beings’. They were people who created this industry from scratch and moulded it into what it is today so naturally, I respect each and every one of them. Nowadays, you’ll find that seniors are very kind and the majority will laugh it off when rookies make accidental slips of the tongue but for us, the generation caught in between (the pioneers and the new gen), such mistakes would cause us to tremble with fear (bitter laugh).
In the past, if recording was to start at 10am and I arrived 30 minutes earlier, there were some seniors who’d already arrived 45 minutes before the start time and they’d tell me “You’re late!”. These days there are people who seem to think “it’s fine to get in 2-3 minutes earlier” or “arriving at 10am on the dot is alright”. Of course this may just be their personal style so I don’t want to be too critical but you do look at them getting in just before 10am and then only start to prepare for their role and you wonder “do they really think that that’s OK?”. If you’re told “we’re starting at 10am” it means you have to make sure that at 10am, your voice is in fine form and that you can go right into tests.
Nowadays, when someone’s smartphone rings in the studio they can just say “Sorry~” and that would be the end of it but in the past, if our mobiles made a sound we would just dogeza right away (laughs). That’s because we used to use tapes for recording back then and having to re-record scenes was a real pain. “Sorry” wouldn’t cut it at all, totally out of the question. It’s all gone digital now so you can just press rewind immediately but I still don’t think it’s something that should happen, so people should be careful about it.
The shift from the cel to digital age began around 2000, I think? Going digital was a great advancement and while I do think digital is wonderful, cel animation still has its own charms. Depending on the broadcast timing, there may be different production teams, and each team has its own tastes – “this team is the one that focuses on drawing beautiful art” etc; I myself have had the chance to speak to (the animation staff) in the studio. I do find that I feel particularly happy when, during wrap-up parties, I am presented with anime cels of the character I have voiced.
Coming into contact with “strict” seniors was fuel for my future growth
During the course of recording I would sometimes be called out on my faults, but I never let myself get depressed about it. I would think of these mistakes as something ‘necessary for me to improve’ so instead of feeling down, I would carefully reflect so that I could address and overcome the issue the next time around.
When I was a rookie I just desperately tried not to get in the way of the main cast’s acting. To make sure that I absolutely did not slip up when moving in and away from the microphones, I would write down the number of the mic that each seiyuu was going to use.
My impression of my seniors was not that “they’re scary”, but that “they’re strict”. In my rookie days when I worked with seniors, they would still remember who I was even when I had not seen them in 5 or 10 years. I had thought “surely they will have forgotten who I am” and when I went to greet them in a very formal way they’d say “Why are you greeting me like that? Of course I remember who you are”. It made me really happy at the time, thinking “Ah, I’m so glad I made it this far”.
There are many seniors in this industry and it was a big thing for me to have so many role models, people who I could look up to and think “I want to be like them”. Watching their performances and hearing their stories served to fuel my growth.
“Do you want to see my schedule book?”
I steadily built up job experience and got enough work, which allowed me to consider “will I be able to survive if I quit my part-time job?”. At that point, I started living alone. Having said that, I still wasn’t making enough to eat and had to ask my parents to send me money a couple of times. I didn’t think of myself as being pathetic, however.
That’s why I felt happy when I was able to buy a car about 10 years ago. I had always thought “It would be utterly impossible for me to own a car” and thus, refrained from making major purchases. It was a big moment for me. My attitude towards money hasn’t changed all that much and I believe in “living life within my means while working hard to ensure that my quality of life doesn’t drop”.
I’m often asked “you get a lot of work, don’t you”, and I’d instinctively reply “Do you want to see my schedule?”, and end up showing that person my schedule book for real (laughs). I’ve been involved with a lot of big-name franchises in the past so people tend to think that I have a packed schedule but that’s not necessarily true. In some cases, certain weeks turn out to be a “Golden Week” for me. That’s a scary image to have (laughs).
No matter how much effort one puts in, it’s all about timing and balance in the end – there will always be dry periods without any work. I think in some ways, it is why this is such a “scary profession”.
Part 3. There are no end goals for actors! Just keep on running
I worry about voicing female roles more than male roles
This is the 23rd year since I became a seiyuu and I do believe that each and every show I have worked on, and each and every person I have met, represents a turning point. The probability of winning a role is so low. Having your voice chosen for a character out of so many potentials is an amazing thing. That’s why I feel a great sense of responsibility to each role I play. Shouldering that responsibility and ensuring that I bring the role to life – it’s great when the people who watch the anime feel that the characters have come alive.
I tend to get asked “What are the struggles involved with voicing male characters?” quite a lot. Personally, I place great emphasis on “living life through the eyes of the character” and that has nothing to do with gender. However, when I hear sound directors saying things like “when I’m casting the heroine for an otome game, I’ll choose someone whose voice and performance makes you think ‘I could never ever hate her’”. That actually makes me think voicing women is a lot tougher. When it comes to female (roles), a single breath can actually determine whether people think of them as being good or evil. In recent times, viewers are quite sensitive so I pay particular attention when I’m voicing female roles. In my case, well, it’s true that I find it a lot easier voicing male characters (laughs).
Rather than “acting” out a role, I prefer to treat it as if I’m “weaving a story together with the character”. I wouldn’t say I’m particularly conscious of wanting to be an “actor with range”. Being chosen for a role means trust has been placed in me, and though I may have worries at times, I accept the pleasure alongside the pain.
Actors are very sensitive and in turn, tend to fall harder…
It has by no means been plain sailing for me all the way. Instead, I have just been desperately running and trying to keep up. As each cour passes, I think to myself “Is this the end?”. I might just lose my livelihood at any given time, and that is a feeling that has remained unchanged. Actors are a strangely sensitive lot (laughs) so when they have too much time off they start to think unnecessary thoughts like “am I gonna continue being unemployed?” or “have I been forgotten already?”.
Anyhow, everyone has similar kinds of fears and anxieties. Even those who are relatively successful do wonder “where will I be one year from now?”. There are also lots of people (who are still in the industry) who have managed to pull through after hitting rock bottom. They may get depressed each time they fail an audition, but instead of thinking ‘Ah, this is impossible, I should just quit’, they will think ‘I’ll try harder next time’.
I have conversations about this topic with my peers quite often and we share a laugh, concluding that “we’re just grateful to be able to exist in this industry”. It’s hard to survive without possessing this kind of strength, particularly in the seiyuu world. The ones who have been doing this for a long time have seen tons of troubles and climbed over all those walls. If you talk to them, you’ll hear some insanely dark stories (laughs).
Looking at the younger generation of seiyuu today, I can’t help but wonder if they will be able to stick it out in the industry despite being able to début so easily. During my rookie days, once you had received recognition for your ability, (staff) would think “Ah, there’s so-and-so who would be perfect for this” when they had a job on hand but nowadays, it’s “this type of role would be suitable for X or Y or Z, who should I go for?” – that is just how many rookies there are on the scene of late.
That is why if this is something you’ve decided that you “want to do”, you’ve got to go all the way and always remember why you started doing this in the first place. When you put in your utmost effort, we seniors will watch over you carefully – we’ll think “Ah, that girl/guy really is working hard!” and show you much love. I’m not in a position to be arrogant so I’d probably just say something like “I (your senior), will give my all to make sure I don’t lose to you – so everyone, please do your best” (laughs).
As long as you get the fundamentals of being a voice actor down, you won’t lose your way
In recent years, we’ve seen an increasing number of opportunities for mainstream actors and comedians to do voice work so there is this kind of impression that the foundations of a seiyuu being ‘someone who acts via his/her voice’ have crumbled.
However, while still maintaining one’s professionalism and pride as a seiyuu, branching out and expanding your repertoire to include singing and dancing is something that I believe is good. One you have built up your foundations, you will never lose your way.
It’s really fun talking in front of an audience during events and so on. It’s a gathering of people who love a show so there are shared feelings between the actors and viewers; plus those of us who are working on the show are able to receive cheer and encouragement.
We want people to “watch the show diligently and come to love it” – these are the basic things that drive us. By the way, what makes me happy isn’t when I am told “I watched this show because you are in it” but rather, when I am told things like “I just happened to see this show by chance and I there was a character that I loved and he/she was voiced by Saiga-san”.
My future goal is to become “an actor for life”. The people who I think of as being ‘amazing’ have all achieved that. I want to be an actor of whom people can say “We’ve just got to have Saiga-san in this” or “We’d be grateful to have Saiga-san on board”. It’s something that will be very difficult, but I’m working hard towards that end. There is no ‘ultimate goal’ for actors, so all we can do is keep on, keep on moving forward!