To become a seiyuu…

Da Vinci interviewed a seiyuu agency insider back in December 2015, hoping to learn what it takes to become a professional voice actor.

An increasing number of young people nowadays harbour dreams of becoming seiyuu. Recently, the manga Sore ga Seiyuu!, which depicts life in the voice acting industry with a comedic touch, was adapted into an anime that aired in July-September 2015.

Seiyuu, people who we start to admire after we begin to watch anime… The severe employment conditions faced by voice acting school graduates are widely discussed on the internet. Some of the freely flowing information includes an estimate that more than 300,000 people are trying to become seiyuu, but only 300 of those will make enough money to eat.

“What does it take to become a seiyuu?”. To answer that question, we asked a certain person who works in the seiyuu production industry, whose stories were told on the condition of anonymity.

Q: Right now, the number of seiyuu production companies and voice acting training schools is growing. This in turn, means that the chances of becoming a seiyuu are now higher…does that sound right to you?

A: It’s true that the playing field for seiyuu has widened with anime and games and so forth but having a bigger satellite dish doesn’t mean that you’ll get better reception. In fact, agencies are seeing an increase in the number of affiliated seiyuu who are merely decorations; you could actually say that the situation is rather unfavourable [for people wanting to become seiyuu].

Q: Apologies for tracking back a bit – could you please tell us about the kind of work that seiyuu production involves, as well as the criteria to gain affiliation with such a company.

A: To describe our business – we manage our affiliated seiyuu. That is to say, we provide services such as schedule management, support services for recordings and so on. As to how to become affiliated to the company…basically, you’ll have to audition.

Q: We hear a lot about ‘seiyuu training schools’; do (seiyuu production companies) have anything to do with them?

A: Yes we do. First off, it’s really rare to find anyone who can pass the seiyuu production company auditions right off the bat. It pretty much only happens to talented geniuses or former child actors and celebrities. By celebs I mean idols, actors or models – there are agencies with ties to the entertainment industry that do head-hunt these kinds of people and take them in. Analogy-wise, you could think of this group of people as having ‘skipped a grade’ in college.

So if you’re neither supremely talented nor already in showbiz, then the normal route to seiyuu production company affiliation would be through training schools. There are already plenty of training schools directly operated by the seiyuu production companies themselves, so in most cases people would move up to join the agency after they’d graduated, or they’d aim to get affiliation with another company. In any case, there are rigorous screenings done to get into training school and even with several hundred to a 1,000 applicants in each recruitment window, we only see maybe a few dozen or so people make it through – the doorway to seiyuu production company affiliation is extremely narrow.

Q: What a harsh world it is…to only have a few dozen people make it through training school to become seiyuu! Isn’t it?

A: You’ll have to break through that first barrier, to an extent. Training school takes roughly two years, but there are promotion tests every year. For example, let’s say there are 20 students, and only half of that number, 10, will progress to the 2nd year; and by the end, only 1-2 of them will have gained affiliation with a seiyuu production company.

So thinking about it beginning from the training school application stage, I guess that means only 1 out of 10,000 people will make it to the affiliation stage.

Q: Would you say that in order to obtain the skills needed to become affiliated to a seiyuu production company, one should go to a voice acting-related training school?

A: Well, it’s true that it’s tough to gain affiliation with a seiyuu production company out of the blue so for now, the quickest path would be by enrolling in a training school. Even if you’re one of those elite grade-skippers we’d still want you to have at least 1 years’ worth of acting experience so some people enrol for that reason; pro training schools teach you how to handle being in front of a mic etc. You can think of it as learning all the stuff that you should know before you become a seiyuu.

Q: There are an increasing number of vocational schools that offer seiyuu courses – any pointers you could offer as to which school to choose?

A: Honestly speaking, there are certain schools that are pointless to enrol in. The main point you should look out for – the achievements of the school’s graduates. To find out the type of seiyuu who have graduated from the school, do check out the alumni list. Recently we’ve seen students from various schools making their début or starting to work before they’ve even graduated, so it’s better to avoid schools that have poor track records, as well as newly-established schools.

I hope that people do pay attention to the ads that schools put out – “So-and-so Famous Teacher or Famous Seiyuu Supports You!”, that kind of thing. There may be schools with zero track records that bring in popular seiyuu for one-off courses, taking advantage of students’ desires to meet said seiyuu in a bid to raise their enrolment numbers. In my opinion it’s imperative that the content of the course is both practical and meaningful, as well as reflecting what actually happens in the recording studio. It doesn’t matter if the school isn’t in Tokyo as long as it has a good track record.

And this is just my personal opinion but…if you’re aiming to become a seiyuu, I would hope that you would attend college as well.

Q: College?

A: Yes. First of all, college entrance examinations are very painful and tough to go through. Overcoming those difficult experiences would serve you well when the time comes to enrol in voice training schools or when trying to join a production company.

Also, this depends on the person but I do believe that college life is a period of time where one is most able to ‘live life freely, making his or her own choices’. Meeting people from all walks of life, being a member of society – these are the kinds of life experiences that are truly priceless to an actor. You not only get to broaden your horizons; I also believe that it can help to make you more attractive as a human being.

When you’re young, you tend to think ‘doing anything that isn’t directly connected to my dream job is a complete waste of time’. Take this as an example. You’re working on an anime and you have to record a situation as follows: ‘a mid-afternoon date in the park with a member of the opposite sex’. If you’ve never hung out with friends or dated at the park, you might end up with a banal, boring, mediocre, unconvincing performance if you’re just trying to pull it out from your imagination. Having had similar encounters helps you build up a bank of experiences that you can draw from when required to in your acting. Even if you’ve never experienced something directly, you could still draw on the stories you’ve seen and heard from others around you as a ‘substitute for experience’. That is to say that, even if you haven’t got the direct experience, by mixing around with other people you can make their experiences ‘your own’.

There are merits in being a jack-of-all-trades. The seiyuu world really is very narrow, so rather than running away, consider the benefits that graduating college can offer in terms of future possibilities, or think of it as insurance. There are schools where you can polish your voice acting basics at night or on weekends, while still attending college. I would like for people to please consider the option of enrolling in college.

Q: Once you graduate from college you’d be 22 or 23 years of age. If you went straight to vocational school you’d be out by 20. Wouldn’t the former situation be detrimental to one’s hopes of joining a training school?

A: There is absolutely no problem with such a gap. This is especially true for the guys, where it’s not exactly uncommon for them to get their break at 30, so I think it’s unnecessary to worry about such things. Recently we’ve seen a lot of people who’ve switched careers, moving from normal jobs into voice acting. This group of seiyuu are well-received by staff members as they’re well-versed with social norms, plus they know how to conduct themselves as part of a group, which is always handy.

On the other hand, if you’re aiming to be an ‘idol seiyuu’ where youth is an advantage, you’d better start as early as possible. Rather than looking at training schools or seiyuu production companies, you should just aim for mainstream entertainment agencies. Raise your profile as an idol, model or tarento and you will receive more voice acting opportunities – that’s the usual pattern. However, I’d like to stress that I believe it’s incredibly difficult for someone to switch from being an idol seiyuu to [what we call] the ‘talented’ type of seiyuu, who can make voice acting a job for life…so I don’t want to recommend the (idol) path too much…

Q: Let’s change it up a bit now. You’ve probably seen a lot of A-grade seiyuu in your time so in your opinion, what are the necessary criteria for one to become a popular seiyuu?

A: Obviously, what I say is going to be pretty subjective. Let me write a rough list of 5 things.

1. Voice quality
This would be the only criteria that you’d be born with. Those with a 100% unique voice would have an advantage; it wouldn’t be unusual for offers to come in specifically because of the voice you possess. Even for those with common-sounding voices, there will be a higher demand for your services if you can handle a wide range of roles from young children to older parts. Apart from that, a voice that is easy on the ears. No matter whether it’s a high or low-pitched voice, it’ll be useful if it’s the type of voice that can be listened to for a prolonged period of time.

2. Acting ability. Expressiveness. Imagination
These can come naturally, but they can also be cultivated through effort. To refine your voice acting techniques as well as enrich your life experiences, don’t just limit yourself to watching anime, reading manga or playing games; go see the theatre, read novels, watch films, listen to music, see plays, visit art exhibitions – see, hear, touch and let the arts stimulate your senses.

3. Communication skills
There are seiyuu who describe themselves as ‘loners’ or ‘being shy’, but the truth is that you cannot survive in this industry if you don’t possess a certain level of communication skills. You have to build good relationships not just with your seiyuu colleagues, but with the staff as well; if you don’t, you may find that they may not call you in for job offers the next time around. Obviously there are people who truly do find it hard to be sociable, but they still put in the effort to be able to communicate properly in public. Additionally, there are a lot more opportunities to interact with fans through various channels such as concerts, public recording events and Nico nama, so fanservice is now an important point.

4. Speaking skills
This isn’t just about mastering ‘the art of conversation’ where you are to able to speak fluently or make people laugh. Providing firm responses, looking the other person in the eye when you talk, clearly listening to what others say – these are all important points. Also, having good general knowledge and the ability to strike up casual conversations are useful traits. It would be even better if you harbour interest in an array of topics, are able to discuss those subject matters extensively and can get a good response in return.

5. Visuals
What I mean by ‘visuals’ is whether seiyuu are conscious about ‘aesthetics’ in terms of grooming and physical appearance. People often say things like ‘it’s not about the looks but it’s about the ability!’ but in my opinion, if you want to know what a person is like on the inside, you should start from the outside. The seiyuu industry consists of people connecting to other people. To give someone you’re meeting for the first time even the slightest bit of a positive impression, you will inevitably have to pay attention to your outward appearance.

Those are the 5 criteria I can offer. Somehow, many wannabe seiyuu tend to spend too much time thinking about no.1 – voice quality or no.2 – acting ability when in truth, no.3 – communication skills, is the most important. Some people may be poor actors but instead, having charming personalities and are fun to work with so they might just keep getting calls for jobs (by the directors). To be honest, seiyuu are pretty much freelancers; sole proprietors whose agencies act merely as mediators and providers of referral services. In the end, it is the individual’s personal charm that is the deal breaker. Thus, to the people who have no friends or people who have a hard time making friends, try to work on that and make an effort to increase your number of friends. If you’re thinking ‘that’s pointless’ or ‘it’s too hard’, then you should just give up on becoming a seiyuu right now.

Q: Thank you so much for taking time to speak to us. Lots of very good stories in there but last of all, let us ask you about something a bit more sleazy…you know, what people call the ‘pillow business’.

A: As far as I know, I’d say ‘no’, (it doesn’t exist). This is true for the seiyuu industry at least – there is little to be gained from engaging in pillow business. It’s such a small industry where word travels around fast; plus, if you easily get a lot of jobs within a short space of time and continue to land offers, you might stop bothering to keep up good relations [with others]. If your relationship with the person in question starts to unravel; ie. you start fighting and then break up, then all jobs related to him or her will be cut off straight away. You’ve already gone through such great pains to get through that narrow doorway to the seiyuu world that it’d be a shame if you had to leave the industry because of such a thing.

Of course, relationships can go as far as the [anime/game] staff members and (seiyuu) going for meals together. For reasons like improving harmony, or to celebrate the end of a project. It’s similar to general corporate circles where you have meet-ups with business partners; stuff like year-end parties or New Year parties. The (seiyuu’s) managers will obviously attend together with the seiyuu and make sure they go home right after that first party [and not move on to a second one].

Q: Thank you very much!

A: It ended up being an interview about the skills needed to become a seiyuu as well as relevant topics of interest. I wonder if it will be of much help to wannabe seiyuu?

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Notes: There are a lot of confusing, sometimes interchangeable terms tossed about in interviews with/about seiyuu. I myself am guilty of inconsistency in translating these terms, so here’s a list of words I tend to use:

所属 (shozoku): literally, ‘belonging to’, ‘attached to’. I have often used ‘attachment’ in the past, for this article I use ‘affiliation’.

養成所 (yōseijo): training school
専門学校 (senmon gakkō): vocational school

The difference between the two? Training schools are subsidiaries of, or connected to, seiyuu agencies. Examples – Aoni Juku -> Aoni Production, Pro-Fit Voice Actor’s School -> Pro-Fit, School Duo -> KenPro, Nichinare -> Artsvision, and so on.

Vocational schools are places that offer general courses that polish the skills related to becoming a seiyuu. These would be schools like A&G Academy, Tokyo Announce Academy and Amusement Media Academy.

声優プロダクション (seiyū production): seiyuu production companies, which in my mind is the same as 事務所 (jimusho)

実力派 (jitsuryokuha): ‘talented’. seiyuu who make it in the business by virtue of pure voice acting talent/ability, as opposed to アイドル (idol)-oriented seiyuu whose looks, image and personality are key.

声質 (seishitsu): voice quality, descriptively – high/low pitch, clear, husky, nasal etc

枕営業 (makura eigyō): pillow business. Literally sleeping with the people with the right connections for benefits.

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