How Popular Are Japanese Voice Actors?

by Justin Sevakis,

DJ Alexander asks:

Recently I discovered that Seiyuu surprisingly make quite the source of income off an anime compared to everyone else whom partake in the production of an anime, which leads me to wonder. How big is voice acting in japan? Are all Seiyuu seen as celebrities equivalent to the likes of hollywood actors or pop artists, when was it exactly that they were first seen as idols with a fan following, and as opposed to our own domestic dubbing can one in Japan actually make a living voice acting?

It might surprise you to learn that while Japanese voice actors can and do get paid more than their American counterparts, they would still have trouble making a living at it. The A-list voice actors can set their own price (these are the ones with their own sizable fan following, and often a music career), but most get paid somewhere between ¥45,000 (~US$360) per episode at the high end, and ¥15,000 (~US$120) at the low end. If a voice actor is only on one show at a time, that only adds up to between US$480 and US$1,440 per month. And it doesn't matter how much or how little they speak, or what character they play. Their pay is entirely based on how they rank as voice actors.

Compare that to American voice actors. Most actors get paid around $64.25 to $75 per hour (depending on union status, there may be a minimum charge of 2 hours worth of work). Outside of Los Angeles and New York (read: Texas) actors get paid quite a bit less. If possible, the dub studio will record multiple episodes at a time, to make the most use of that actor while they're there. Of course, these days with simul-dubbing, that's not possible. In both countries, voice actors aim more for video games rather than anime, as the pay is much better.

These days, with so many anime being produced, many voice actors can juggle multiple roles at a time. They also release CDs, make appearances and give concerts to supplement their income. All of these entertainment goods sell at typically high Japanese prices, which means they don't have to sell all that many copies to make a decent amount of money. Which is good, because even most of the popular voice actors won't sell a huge number. They do what they can to build a robust fanbase and scrape by.

Voice actors are not celebrities outside the world of otaku. The vast majority can walk the streets and not be noticed. A handful of them, such as Maaya Sakamoto and Mamoru Miyano, have crossed over into the nebulous land between otaku-only and mainstream, but they're still not exactly household names. But most are known only to otaku, and are absolutely not rich or particualrly famous.

Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!)

Justin Sevakis is the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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