1.4 Popularity is everything, yet it cannot guarantee success
In our world, where we are ‘commodities’ needed to keep the consumers coming back, popularity comes above all else. Whether or not one possesses talent, as long as you are popular you will see work coming in in the short-term. That is how it is.
Hence, the rookie seiyuu of recent times are so eager to grow their number of fixed fans that they tend to cut down the amount of time spent polishing their skills. I won’t say that this is solely the seiyuu’s fault. Since last year, the ones in charge of selecting the seiyuu too, have been prioritizing popularity over capability. With such circumstances it’s no wonder that diligently training [one’s skills] is being seen as a foolish act.
However, the notion that ‘gaining popularity’ could be seen as a form of ‘success’ where you think you’d be set for life if you can get popular off playing a popular character, is a grave misunderstanding.
I know it’s a little difficult to get your head around this, but it is a fact that ‘popularity’ cannot be used as a measure of ‘success’ in the seiyuu world.
The seiyuu industry complies with the ‘rank’ system that is determined by the Japan Actors’ Union (Nippairen), whereby seiyuu who are registered with Nippairen receive guarantee payments in line with regulations. While it is true that ranks reflect the career and popularity of a certain actor, it does not necessarily indicate said actor’s ‘status’; rather, it is merely an indicator of the rate of pay that the actor receives. Furthermore, ranks are based on a self-assessment system so it can be said that the raising of ranks can really be an arbitrary thing, to a certain degree.
It certainly makes a manager’s selling job easier if a seiyuu has raised their profile in the industry and to the general public by appearing in popular works. Once a seiyuu amasses a large number of hardcore fans, seiyuu can see their amount of work increasing if decisions are made based on reasoning such as ‘if you make this person the CV, you can print X thousand units of their character song CD’ or ‘you can count on X number of fans coming to their event’.
Regardless, no matter how loud one is being cheered on at events or how high the mountain of fan letters one gets, by no means does such support guarantee the formation of a rock-solid scaffolding for you to stand upon. Popularity in the here and now promises absolutely nothing to an actor.
As an ordinary employee, once you have risen to the position of unit head or manager, it would be rare to be demoted barring misconduct on your part or instability in the company’s management. In a way, job promotion is a method by which a company guarantees a certain level of treatment commensurate with an employee’s contribution to the organization.
Now, does a seiyuu’s popularity remain stable for decades?
As all of you would know, popularity is a sad and painfully cheap thing. Even if you’re the dominant star of your generation, you could spend just a little time away from the industry and come back to find your position stolen by someone else, or you might simply have been forgotten; you could find yourself unceremoniously labelled ‘a person who used to be popular’. It’s a cruel world.
In other words, to sit on one of those 300 chairs that will enable you to earn enough to make a living as a seiyuu, you have to stand at the ‘frontlines’ of voice work. If you want to make enough to live, you cannot leave your seat. No matter how old you grow or how much your body physically declines, you have no choice but to keep fighting on an equal footing with the rookie seiyuu who will emerge on the scene, one after the other.
If one chooses to disregard polishing one’s skills when young, any effort exerted only when one’s popularity is starting to look shaky will turn out to be useless. The level of safety one gets from being ‘popular’ and the level you get from being both ‘popular and talented’ is totally different.
Again I say this – the number of ‘chairs’ available in the seiyuu industry is very limited. If you idle about, it won’t be long before you’re kicked out of your seat. Realistically, the industry is not likely to see a significant increase in the number of chairs available. You will never see a future where you become so popular that you get treated like a ‘bigwig’ wherever you go, where you can make a pretty penny from doing a little bit of voice acting in some big production every once in a while.
As for myself, I am aware of the danger that I may get weeded out [by the industry] at any given time therefore there is not a single chance that I would ever kick back and relax. From the moment I stepped into this world right up ‘til now, I have continued to polish my weapon with the aim of protecting my position at the frontlines. I also take pride in continuing to grow my own commercial value.
What is important in this world for an actor in terms of demand (for their services), right here right now, is whether or not they possess commercial value. It doesn’t matter if one has decades’ worth of showbiz experience, nor does it matter if one has appeared in countless numbers of famous series; no-one can predict what will happen tomorrow.