Earlier this year, I have focused on how being an animator is tough given the poor working conditions, salary and being overworked in general. However, I have not covered the other aspect of anime production, voice acting. As seen with Shizuka in Shirobako having extreme difficulty in landing in a role, there are a good number of people who want to become a voice actor or rather, a seiyuu (声優), but they do not realize how difficult it is to gain a role.
Like I did with my analysis on how much animators make, I will focus on some of the basic aspects in regards to how people become voice actors, how much they are paid, how roles are determined and issues they face.
It is apparent that many people in Japan wants to get into voice acting with a dream of voicing a main character in a popular show or to become famous. Since anime tends to be more popular than say live action movies or television shows, seiyuu, or voice actors in Japan are treated more like a celebrity. The only difference is that they do not make nearly as much money compared to an average Hollywood actor or actress who makes hundred thousand or more a year.
So what is a seiyuu? Seiyuu (声優, lit: Voice Actor) is basically means 声の俳優 (こえのはいゆう), which means the same thing, but longer. Compared to an average voice actor in the west, Japanese voice actors and actresses tend to do more than voice acting. This can consist of singing, stage performances, radio dramas, narration, etc. From this, you would think that being a voice actor in Japan is a glamorous career since you get to do a lot of fun stuff with a varying degree of creativity. This is no wonder why a good number of people want to become one. However, becoming one let alone have a successful career to the point one becomes a professional along with being very popular is very difficult, if not impossible for most people.
First off, let’s focus on how people can become a voice actor in Japan? Typically, you go to voice acting school after high school to train to become one. While not many actually graduate since you need some degree of talent and that the training is vigorous, this is usually the most common path that most inspiring voice actors tend to take as seen with Shizuka in Shirobako.
While there are other ways to become a voice actor such as being a child actor, a regular actor and theater work, this is not the only way to become one as former idols might decide to become voice actors. Some examples include Ogura Yui and Ishihara Kaori who were former members of an idol group called StylipS and Sato Amina (former AKB48 member) who voices Tachibana Arisu in The Idolmaster Cinderella Girls social mobile game.
From there, perspective voice actors either join a voice talent agency (there are a good number of them), which manage, produce or train talent in exchange of taking a small cut from their salary or become a freelancer with a greater degree of freedom. The latter is common for veterans in the industry. Despite which way perspective voice actors decide to take, there is no silver bullet for them to have a successful career as you will see later.
With that, how do people generally get a role in an anime? While I could not find a specific source on how voice actors are chosen for anime or any type of Japanese media, it is generally the same like every entertainment industry as voice actors generally audition for the parts they are interested in. During an audition, each person gives their performance that matches the character they are trying for. In addition, they might be asked to say lines for other characters. After the auditions are done, a team, which usually consists of central staff (producer, director, etc), some production staff, sound engineer and possibly the author will decide which voice actor or actress that will best fit the major and minor roles. Once that is done, the studio can begin recording the voices depending on how far in the production they are.
Now that the basics on how one becomes a voice actor and how roles are determined is explained, let’s focus on why people who want to become a successful seiyuu are experiencing a difficult time landing in a role, especially for someone who is trying to get their foot into the door. We have seen in Shirobako that Shizuka had a very difficult time trying to even get a minor role. As a result, she had to work part-time at a restaurant while do various gigs in the meantime. The problem is that there are simply not enough roles for voice actors to try for and earn since there are only a limited number of shows that air for a given season.
Earlier this year, Ohtake Hiroshi, a veteran voice actor at the Seiyuu Awards talked about some of the challenges that prospective and up and coming voice actors face. He stated that one in a hundred will become professionals and that only one in a thousand can put food without resorting to part-time and side jobs. Given the amount of roles that are available at a given time, it can be very difficult for someone to land in a role given the fierce competition and the limited supply of roles. In fact, landing multiple roles, let alone more than five at a given time can be extremely difficult, more so than someone with a bachelor’s degree and no job experience finding a position, getting an interview and earning a position.
As we seen with Shizuka’s difficulties in landing in a single role, let alone a minor one that only have a few lines, there is simply not enough roles to go around. While voice actors in Japan has many things they can do besides voicing characters in an anime such as becoming a singer, doing narration work, recording Japanese dubbing, etc. in terms of supply and demand, there is simply too much talent and not enough roles. To make matters worse, production teams would rather fill roles with veterans who have a lot of experienced or someone younger who might have a lot of potential to give a good performance for a particular character. This is possibly why mid-level voice actors have a difficult time compared to younger or high-level ones since they lack the reputation and prestige despite having experience as Hiroshi also stated. As a result, some voice actors have to do side jobs such as doing various gigs or even part-time jobs to stay afloat.
Given how hard it is to get a single role, you might be wondering how much they make? While it’s hard to get a concrete figure since the number of main roles for a typical 1 cour (13 episode) varies depending on the person, I had to make some calculations based on some assumptions. Taking the figures from a post I found on AnimeSuki published in 2006 (the salaries for a voice actor may be higher or lower currently), a junior voice actor will make 15000 yen while a veteran voice actor will make 45000 yen. These figures are per episode.
Assuming that a voice actor will get on average of 3 (2-4) main roles per season if they are lucky with a typical show consisting of 13 episodes, a junior voice actor without any deductions can make ¥2,340,000 yen or $19,500 dollars ($1 = 120 yen as of November 16, 2015) while veterans can make ¥7,020,000 yen or $58,500 dollars. Judging from how much a junior-level voice actor who is lucky to get 2 to 4 roles every given season makes, it is only a slight improvement to animators or people who work in restaurants. For veterans, they barely reach the amount of money a typical professional makes who usually have a bachelor or graduate degree.
Of course, voice actors can do other voice acting related jobs to make a good living such as narrations, public appearances, voicing video game characters (which is highly lucrative) or appear on commercials. This can explain why some highly successful voice actors such as Mizuki Nana can make tons of money given how successful their singing career is aside from voicing characters for anime and video games. Otherwise, most would have to rely on part-time jobs such as working at McDonald’s, meaning that most voice actors can not make a real living on voicing anime and/or video game characters alone. This will lead to some becoming overworked compared to someone who works at a professional job 40 hours a week, especially junior-level ones.
To make matters worse, voice actors in Japan also have to deal with disgruntled fans ranging from harassment and death threats in addition to the low earnings and being overworked. The problem applies more to female voice actors since some people believe that they should not date anyone and they must be pure. In short, they are treated like idols when they are not. Of course, it can happen for any reason besides the whole purity thing for various stupid reasons. Some notable examples who have experienced this is Hirano Aya, who is notable for voicing Suzumiya Haruhi. People simply did not like the fact that she was dating guys and of course, her career is mostly ruined as a result of the fan backlash because of her personal life, which is nobody’s business.
On the other hand, I feel that disgruntled fans sending death threats can unfortunately ruin a voice actor’s career too even if it is not their fault. A good example of this is Hase Yurina who is the former voice actress for Hagiwara Yukiho from The Idolmaster. She recently revealed that she received death threats from disgruntled fans in 2010, which caused her to become anxious and unable to perform at live performances. While the staff at Namco wanted to keep her, the talent agency she worked for removed her from the role without notification, thus ruining a successful career she had. From Hase Yurina speaking out on her experiences of the issues she had to dealt with, it illustrates that at the end of the day, voice actors are human just like all of us and perhaps fans should not treat them disrespectfully.
At the end of the day, while some people believe that Japanese voice actors live a glamorous life just like Hollywood celebrities, this is far from reality. Except for a few that have highly successful careers, many have to work hard in order to become successful while making a good living, even if they have to take on multiple gigs or part-time jobs. It is simple, there is not enough roles to go around. From this, people should appreciate the work they put into voicing the characters that you enjoy. One of the ways you can do this is by buying their CDs instead of downloading them illegally since they earn loyalties off them believe it or not. Of course, buying the anime DVDs or Blu-Ray and perhaps subscribing to legal streaming services like Crunchyroll can also help.
With that, what are your thoughts about the struggles that voice actors face? Do you think that there is a solution to solve the limited numbers of roles that voice actors have to compete for? Feel free to share your thoughts. ¶